Major embarrassment for David Cameron as only 2% of eligible families take up offer of help
David Cameron’s high-profile free parenting classes scheme is in meltdown: figures show that only 2% of eligible families have taken up the offer of help.
A poor take-up of vouchers worth £100 of advice has led to one provider pulling out, while a second has told the Observer that a lack of sustained publicity has hit numbers.
The prime minister launched 22,000 free classes for parents of under-fives last May to great fanfare, offering a boost to “parents as nation-builders” in the wake of the 2011 riots in England.
Families in four trial areas – Bristol, Camden in London, High Peak in Derbyshire and Middlesbrough – could get vouchers from Boots stores and health workers.
However an assessment published last week found only 2% of eligible parents took up classes in the first seven months. Of those that did start the course, which typically lasts three to four weeks, one in five pulled out early.
Concerns were also raised by local authorities about the quality of some of the courses run by the firms and charities selected by the Department for Education. The trial, known as CANParent, aimed to reach fathers as well as mothers, but after seven months 94% of those attending were female.
The revelations will be a major embarrassment for Cameron in a week in which his childcare proposals have also been savaged. The coalition is desperate to been seen as family friendly and to attract female support: last week he personally launched a tax-free voucher scheme for parents to help them pay for up to £1,200 of childcare a year per child.
However the flagship proposal was savaged for only being available to families with two earners, and discriminating against stay at home mothers.
On Sunday, the Resolution Foundation thinktank reveals analysis showing that the new childcare support is heavily weighted in favour of better-off families. It has found that only 160,000 families in the bottom 40% of the income distribution will qualify for help, compared to 1.7 million in the top 40% – largely because those earning under £10,000 are not eligible for help.
The government has put an additional £200m into universal credit to help the less well-off, but Vidhya Alakeson, deputy chief executive of the foundation, said too many of the working poor had been excluded: “This week the government announced new plans to reduce the burden of childcare costs on families. As part of that, it is very welcome that some families receiving universal credit will in the future see their childcare costs halved. But it is wrong for the new proposal to exclude many of the poorest working families who struggle greatly with the cost of childcare.
“As part of the government’s forthcoming consultation, it is crucial that additional support is made available to families where a parent is working part-time and not earning enough to pay income tax.”
The DfE said: “The CANParent trial aims to improve parenting skills and address the everyday issues that can arise when raising young children. It is still being successfully delivered by 13 of the original 14 providers and feedback from parents is very positive.”
Money | guardian.co.uk
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