Freedom of Information investigation findings

In December 2018, the Early Years 91ɫƵ filed a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the Department for Education asking for the thinking behind the early years funding rates that were announced in 2015, which came into effect in 2017.

After a two-and-a-half year battle, the DfE has finally made this information available to the 91ɫƵ.

The information – a series of private government briefing documents – reveals that:

  • back in 2015, the government predicted that, by 2020, it would cost £2bn to fully fund the sector and that doing so would result in a three- and four-year-old funding rate to local authorities of £7.49 per hour. In reality, they provided just £300m of funding and a three- and four-year-old funding rate to local authorities of just £4.89 per hour on average, according to Ceeda analysis 
  • that government knew that the proposed funding levels, alongside the introduction of the 30 hours, would lead to increased costs for parents of younger children 
  • the government expected providers to operate at maximum statutory ratios to make the funding levels on offer work 


In the interests of transparency, the 91ɫƵ is making this information available in full for the sector and the wider public to view.

All the information provided to the 91ɫƵ is available .


Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years 91ɫƵ, said:

“For years, the early years sector has warned that the so-called ‘free entitlement’ offer is anything but free, in the face of repeated government claims that the policy is adequately funded. These documents, which they spent more than two years trying to hide, prove otherwise.

“The early years of a child’s life are critical to their long-term learning and development – and yet ministers have been all too happy to force providers to work to maximum ratios, inevitably reducing quality, in order to save the Treasury some money.

“For so long, the government has tried to deflect the blame for rising childcare costs. But these documents prove, in black and white, that it knew that the introduction of the 30-hours policy, along with an insufficient level of investment, would result in higher costs for parents of younger children.

“Early years providers and parents have had enough of being forced to pay the price for this underfunded policy year after year. There is still time for the government to do the right thing, but at this point, the only way for it to maintain any credibility with parents and early educators is by agreeing to a full review of early years policy in this country. That means delivering the substantial investment the sector needs in the upcoming Spending Review.  

“Only with fair and adequate funding will we ensure nurseries, pre-schools and childminders can continue delivering the quality, affordable care and education that children and families both need and deserve.”

What you can do

Please help us raise awareness of these findings by:

​ and asking for them to support our call to #FullyFundEarlyYears  

Writing to your local MP or councillor and asking them to implement a full review of early years funding in the upcoming Spending Review using our provider and parent template letters

What our allies are saying...

"The perseverance shown by the Early Years 91ɫƵ to get answers from the government on their early years policy is admirable. It’s disappointing to have confirmation that the government were aware that the current early years funding would not be enough to fully support their scheme, but that it was implemented anyway.

"The 30 hours policy is directly disadvantaging low-income families, who already face additional barriers to accessing good early years provision. A well-funded and accessible early years sector is vital for social cohesion and social mobility, and we have launched a new campaign to explore this policy and create alternatives which support every young child.” 

"The pandemic has increased the financial pressure the sector was under, with many settings reducing staff to stay afloat, many closing, and many more at risk of shutting their doors for good. If availability pf places and quality provision are to be maintained, then it is essential that existing services are protected and the trend towards redundancies reversed. 

"It is shameful that the Government continues to let down the Early Years sector. The Government’s current policies and lack of action are clearly a threat to the sector and the life chances of the children they educate." 

"This reveals what we have known all along - that the 30 hours ‘free’ childcare scheme was only implemented to win votes, but as the Government failed to subsidise the scheme properly, it has made it harder for providers to deliver sustainable early years education for our children, and hugely inflated costs for parents, forcing hundreds of thousands of mothers out of the workforce.

"Childcare is critical social infrastructure. The Government talks a good game about ‘levelling up’ but when only the very wealthy can afford to work, and many children in areas of deprivation are being denied good quality early years education, then it is clear that this soundbite has no real substance whatsoever. We urgently need an independent review of our childcare system.’' 

"We have long highlighted that the early entitlements are underfunded. This underfunding, alongside a fall in income from parents during lockdowns, was a key factor in the challenges face by early years providers throughout the pandemic as they worked hard to support children and families. The forthcoming Spending Review should properly resource all early years settings so that councils and providers can support the Government’s ambition to reduce the attainment gap and ensure that every child has the best start in life.”

“We agree that the early years must be a priority for recovery. Children who start school already behind often find it difficult, even impossible, to catch up later, even with additional help. A good way to mitigate the damage caused by coronavirus for young children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is by investing in early years education and family services.

"We also agree that the early entitlements are underfunded and need to be reviewed. We cannot continue to ask Early Years settings to provide first-class education and childcare on a shoe-string budget.”

Childcare provision in the UK is expensive to the point of being unusable for many families, meaning that mothers are often forced to take less skilled work or leave the labour force altogether.

“Forty per cent of Mumsnet users who use the 30 hours offer say they’ve been asked to pay additional or new charges for things such as lunches and nappies, and 77% of working mothers on Mumsnet don’t think the government does enough to support parents with the cost of childcare.”

“The 91ɫƵ should be congratulated for its success in finally obtaining these figures. We have all known for a long time that the sector is woefully underfunded. These figures are hard evidence of the extent of that underfunding, and the Government’s knowledge of the situation.

“There is already an early years recruitment and retention crisis, and that will only get worse unless the Government acts now.Staff need a national pay and conditions and career structure.

“We call on the Government to invest in the early years sector, which has a vital role in both children’s development and in post-pandemic economic recovery.”




  Learn more about 91ɫƵ membership Contact us