A cross-party group of MPs is seeking to change the law so childcare is treated as an infrastructure issue like schools, GPs and public transport, placing a duty on major housebuilders to ensure new developments have sufficient provision to match an expanding population.
The plan, led by the Labour MP Stella Creasy, comes as an amendment to the levelling up and regeneration bill, which returns to the Commons on Tuesday for the final part of its committee stage.
The amendment, signed by Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative MPs, would add the provision of subsidised or free childcare, not just for preschool children but for those in school up to age 11, under the bill’s definition of “infrastructure”. Signatories include the Tory MP Robin Walker, a former education minister who now chairs the education select committee.
Research carried out in support of the plan shows that since 2014, in 116 of 149 English local authorities, the rate of population growth was greater than the growth of the childcare sector. This included 15 of the 20 areas with the highest population growth.
In a total of 75 areas, the number of available childcare places had actually fallen since 2014, while the populations had increased.
A shortage of childcare places has exacerbated other inflationary pressures, with the cost of provision forecast to go up by as much as 19% next year, prompting many parents to reduce how much childcare they use, or even give up work.
Another issue is underfunding of the government’s pledge for 30 free hours of childcare for three- and four-year-olds, meaning nurseries have to cross-subsidise this by increasing overall fees.
In a Guardian callout to those affected by the issue, people said they were spending more on nursery fees than on their mortgage, or that their wages barely covered their childcare bill.
Creasy said: “The crisis in our childcare system is holding back children and holding back our economy. A decade of underinvestment in these services has led to eye-watering prices and unsustainable waiting lists to get your child into nursery.
“It is time we recognised childcare as the vital economic infrastructure it is. Without high-quality affordable childcare, we will continue to see parents locked out of work for years on end, hitting their future earning potential and dampening economic growth.
“By allowing local authorities to use infrastructure levy funds for childcare, we can take the first step towards ensuring that every child – and their family – get the benefit of high-quality, affordable childcare in their local area.”
Joeli Brearley, the chief executive of the campaign Pregnant then Screwed, said: “Childcare is infrastructure. Without access to good quality, affordable childcare and early years provision, parents are forced out of their jobs and back into the home rendering them unable to financially contribute to their family and the economy.
“Not only is it an investment in our current labour market, it is an investment in our future workforce, with study after study showing that for the most disadvantaged families, access to good quality childcare starts to close the attainment gap between them and their peers.”