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Posted on June 5, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Childcare providers in England say the system is at "breaking point" as plans to double free provision for three and four-year-olds in England are sped up.


The warning from one industry body, the Pre-School Learning Alliance, comes as ministers say trials of the new scheme are being brought forward to 2016.


The current allowance of 570 hours a year for three and four-year-olds will be doubled for working parents.


David Cameron said it would "take time" to get the policy right.


The Pre-School Learning Alliance - which represents 14,000 private, voluntary and independent groups - is warning of "meltdown" in the system because of a shortfall in government funding.





It says the grant for the existing 15 hours falls, on average, around 20% short of the true cost of providing care - £3.88 per hour compared with £4.53.


Employment Minister Priti Patel told the BBC the government accepted "funding rates need to increase" and is launching a consultation on how the policy will work in practice.


'Crunch time'


Currently, all three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year, which works out as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year.


Child playing with a toy train

The Childcare Bill, announced in last week's Queen's Speech, would double this for working parents - although it is not clear yet how many hours they will have to work in order to qualify.


Ministers say up to 600,000 families could benefit, saving as much as £5,000 a year.


The change had been due to come into force from September 2017, but some working parents will be entitled to the extra help when pilots begin in September next year.


However, the alliance said many groups were already having to charge parents extra for hours of childcare not included in the scheme to make ends meet, and would struggle to deal with the changes.


"I think this is crunch time," said chief executive Neil Leitch.


"While we of course welcome the drive to improve the availability of childcare in this country, these figures clearly show the government's plan to extend funded childcare hours simply cannot work without a substantial increase in sector funding.


"The so-called 'free' childcare scheme is nothing of the sort. For years now, the initiative has been subsidised by providers and parents because of a lack of adequate government funding."


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