Poor families could end up missing out on 30 hours of free childcare a week if the new Government policy is not properly funded, an early years leader is warning.
Nurseries and childminders may end up giving priority to those parents who can afford to pay for additional hours or extras such as food or trips, according to Neil Leitch (pictured), chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance.
In a speech at a lobby on concerns about the 30 hours scheme, rolled out across England last month, he will say: "If a child's parents are willing and able to pay their nursery, pre-school, or childminder a bit extra, they might well get pushed to the front of the queue when it comes to a childcare place.
"But if that child's parents need free childcare to be just that: 'free' ... tough luck. Because, let's be realistic, if you're a childcare provider struggling to keep your doors open, and you have three families approaching you willing to pay extra to secure a place, and one that can't, who wants the offer completely 'free' - I think we all know who's going to the back of the queue.
"It's something we're seeing more and more. And it's a real problem."
Under the initiative, three- and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 30 free hours of childcare a week, double the previous 15 hours.
To be eligible for the 30 hours, parents must be in work and earning at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week - £120 if for someone over 25.
But industry leaders have raised concerns that nurseries and childminders will not get enough public funding to cover the costs of providing these places.
The Government has said it wants to help families access affordable childcare and that it has introduced an Early Years National Funding Formula which will increase the funding rates for early years providers in most local authorities.
Children's Minister Robert Goodwill said: "We are determined to support as many families as possible with access to high-quality, affordable childcare, which is why we are investing a record £6 billion every year by 2020 in childcare - more than ever before - and doubling the free childcare available to working parents to 30 hours a week, saving them up to £5,000 a year per child.
"This funding includes £1 billion per year by 2019-20 to pay for the 30 hours offer and to raise the national hourly childcare rate given to local authorities for three- and four-year-olds."
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