New childcare strategy is vital to improving life chances for kids as well as employment opportunities for parents.
Parents are calling on politicians to fix Scotland’s “broken” childcare system ahead of the Holyrood election in May.
Parent-led campaign group Fair Funding For Our Kids has written to all party leaders, including the first minister, urging them to end the fiction of “free hours” and deliver an accessible and affordable childcare system.
Currently, three and four year olds in Scotland are eligible for 600 hours of free childcare annually. But as the election campaign gets underway and childcare once again is at the forefront of all the party’s campaigns, the campaign is raising concerns that one in five children are missing out on their entitlement.
Councils only offer the free hours in slots of three hours 10 minutes during term time, with no option for parents to buy extra hours for the rest of the day: an unusable system for many families.
So parents either end up paying for all of their childcare, or can’t work at all, says the group.
The childcare landscape is chaotic and confusing for many families
In its letter to First Minster Nicola Sturgeon, the charity states: “The fundamental problem is that our childcare system is not a system at all: it is an incoherent collection of policies and structures, built up over two or three decades.
“We recognise that the SNP has already committed to expanding the free school meal programme and to doubling the number of free childcare hours.
“These are excellent aims, but they must be accompanied by a commitment to deliver the existing entitlement to 600 hours for all families.
“We do not feel there is political recognition that this policy has not been delivered: instead, the childcare landscape is chaotic and confusing for many families.”
The charity's four manifesto points call for: a stop to focusing on free hours; a commitment to a cross party 10-year plan for childcare; an investment in the new system; and a plea not to “abandon” the children who are three and four now.
A spokesperson for Fair Funding for our Kids said: “We urge party leaders not to play party politics trying to outdo one another with the number of “free hours” but acknowledge that this policy has not delivered the flexible childcare working parents need.”