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UK Policy Briefing

Early Education and Childcare: Briefing for a new government

This briefing summarises the key issues including supply to access, quality and affordability – and makes short and long term recommendations.


Early education and childcare is vital social infrastructure. It is one of the essential services necessary for our society and our economy to function, delivering benefits for children, families and the wider economy.

The early education and childcare system in England is not working for children, parents, workers or the wider economy. The absence of flexible, affordable and quality early education and childcare is a huge barrier to positive child outcomes, tackling inequality and increasing women’s employment.

  • Lack of access to high quality EEC can leave disadvantaged children behind before they have even started school and require expensive interventions in the future. Around two-fifths of the total attainment gap between sixteen-year-olds from the most deprived fifth of families and the least deprived fifth of families is already present at age five.
  • The current system of funded hours is shutting out children from the poorest families. Just 20% of the poorest third of families are eligible for the existing 30-hour offer for three- and four-year-olds.
  • Just 6% of local authorities have enough provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.
  • The cost and unavailability of childcare is putting household budgets under strain: the average weekly cost for a full-time nursery place for a two-year-old in England £290.77 in 2024. For many women it doesn’t pay to work: an estimated 1.7 million women are prevented from taking on more hours of paid work due to childcare issues, resulting in up to £28.2 bn economic output lost every year.
  • Nurseries face severe retention and recruitment challenges among staff, while childminders are leaving the profession at an alarming rate. 57% of nursery staff and 38% of childminders are considering leaving the sector in the next 12 months.


Along with other members of the Early Education and Childcare Coalition we recommend a strategy of rescue and reform for the Early Education and Childcare sector:


An urgent set of measures will be required to stabilise the sector. We are calling for an independent National Early Education and Childcare Commission to assess, design and implement recommendations on the broad range of interconnected issues that are undermining the current system. To ensure lasting reform, this body must work cross-party and in the interests of the greater good.


We need a New Deal on early education and childcare. This will require working in partnership with providers, the workforce, unions, families and across national and local government to produce evidence-led recommendations for long-term reform, including a review a of the suitability of the current funding model, regulation and investment targets, putting early education as well as childcare in the centre.

In the longer-term

The Women’s Budget Group is calling for a universal and free system, delivered as a public infrastructure service on equal footing with school education. Modelling by the Women’s Budget Group of the employment and fiscal impacts of such a system shows that while the upfront investment is significant, almost all of it is recouped through higher tax revenue due to the returns on increased maternal employment and reduced spending on means-tested benefits.


Read the briefing here