Giving disabled children the childcare they deserve

As we move towards the General Election in 2015, childcare is high on the agenda of all three political parties.

That makes a lot of sense. Good quality childcare is a win-win for any government. It allows parents to work and has long-term social and educational benefits for all children, especially those who are disadvantaged.

Families with disabled children are financially disadvantaged by the extra costs of disability:

  • It costs three times more to raise a disabled child
  • Mothers of disabled children have one of the lowest employment rates of any group in society
  • Four in ten disabled children live in poverty.

Despite this, disabled children are too often missing from the childcare debate. This means their needs are not reflected in government solutions – such as support with childcare costs.

We are pleased that the government has started to listen to organisations like Scope (and our partners at the Disability Charities Consortium) about inconsistencies in guidance and legislation that unintentionally exclude disabled children.

This week in response to our concerns, the government clarified that the new Tax-free Childcare scheme will cover specialist childcare registered with the Care Quality Commission, as well as childcare registered with Ofsted. This is welcome news which means parents who buy childcare from short-breaks and domiciliary care providers – often because this is the only or best option available locally – will now also receive a 20% discount on their childcare costs.

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The clarification comes in the same week that an important parliamentary inquiry led by Pat Glass and Robert Buckland MP shed further light on how difficult it is for parents of disabled children to find suitable childcare.

The simple fact is that the childcare system is failing disabled children and their families:

  • Childcare costs up to eight times more for disabled children
  • There isn’t enough childcare for disabled children with complex needs and there’s a gap in the childcare market for older disabled children
  • Disabled children are turned away by mainstream providers who lack the confidence, training and resources to include them
  • Disabled children can’t access their full legal entitlement of 15 hours of free early years education

As the inquiry recommends, two good places for the current government to start addressing these failings would be to:

  • Undertake a cross-departmental review of funding to identify where support must be improved to meet the extra costs of childcare for disabled children and remove barriers to access
  • Pilot more flexible financial support for parents by increasing the upper limit of capped childcare costs under Universal Credit and the Tax-Free Childcare scheme

We hope the government will accept these recommendations as a way of building on the introduction of the Tax-free Childcare scheme under the Childcare Payments Bill.

Before 2015 all political parties must commit to tackling the lack of affordable, inclusive, high quality childcare for disabled children. Only then will parents get the support they need to work and disabled children the start in life they need and deserve.