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Thousands of childcare places lost as Labour says poorest families hardest hit

Fewer childminders and Sure Start centres as birth rate in England continues to climb

The number of childcare places available to parents in England has gone down sharply and providers have been dropping out of the industry, according to Ofsted figures.

The last six months have seen the total number of places fall by almost 5,000, while a study released last week showed cuts to the Sure Start programme, which is designed to help the most underprivileged children and families, have led to a loss of 250 community nurseries, a drop of 40%. Private nurseries have also shed 889 places. Birth rates have been rising steadily over the past decade and opposition MPs claim the drop in available places is a further indication of the deepening childcare crisis.

The biggest drop is in numbers of childminders, with figures showing that there were 1,568 fewer in March this year than in March 2010, down from 57,734 to 56,166.

Over the same period there has been a decline in the numbers of childcare providers operating, down by almost 2,500. The figures emerged as ministers were forced to acknowledge a study by the charities 4Children and the Daycare Trust which showed that 250 Sure Start centres are expected to close. A further 2,000 will have to provide a reduced service and 3,100 will have a smaller budget. Staff at 1,000 centres have been warned about the threat of redundancy, according to the survey of almost 1,000 centre managers across England.

The centres providing daycare are typically in the most disadvantaged areas, where fewer private nurseries operate.The closures and reduced services as a result of government cuts could see 60,000 families lose their local centre, it is claimed.

A parliamentary answer from childcare minister Liz Truss conceded that the number of children’s centres providing full daycare fell from 800 in 2010 to 550 in 2011, with no figures available since then.

Labour MP Frank Field, the government adviser on poverty, said: “It is inconceivable that we can make the foundation years effective if Sure Starts all over the place are being slaughtered. Local authorities must seek to employ innovative methods to ensure families – especially the poorest families – do not lose the vital support they need.”

Labour claims the drop in available places comes as more parents are forced to reduce their reliance on formal childcare because of rising costs and government cuts to childcare tax credits.

Shadow children’s minister Sharon Hodgson said: “David Cameron has created a childcare crisis. Parents are struggling to find affordable childcare because so many nurseries and children’s centres have disappeared since the election.

“While ministers squabble over the deeply unpopular plans to increase ratios, parents are being hit by a triple whammy of increasing costs, cuts to government support, and now places disappearing.

“Ministers need to listen to parents and come back with comprehensive plans to turn around this crisis, and ensure everyone has access to high-quality, affordable childcare.”

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