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Seòmar agus comataidhean

Education, Children and Young People Committee [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 7, 2024


Subordinate Legislation

Provision of Early Learning and Childcare (Specified Children) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2024 [Draft]

The Convener

Our next agenda item is an evidence-taking session on the draft Provision of Early Learning and Childcare (Specified Children) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2024. I thank the Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise for staying with us, and I welcome the Scottish Government officials Joanna Mackenzie, team leader, targeted childcare and family wellbeing, and Nico McKenzie-Juetten, who is a lawyer from the legal directorate.

I invite the minister to speak to the draft instrument for up to three minutes.

Natalie Don

As has happened in previous years, the amending order will increase the maximum income levels for families with a two-year-old who is eligible for funded early learning and childcare because they receive a joint working tax credit and child tax credit award or a universal credit award.

The relevant order currently specifies that a two-year-old is eligible for funded ELC if their parent is in receipt of a joint child tax credit and working tax credit award and has an annual income that does not exceed £8,717, or if their parent is in receipt of a universal credit award and has a monthly income that does not exceed £726 per month. The amending order will increase the maximum income level to £9,552 per year for households that receive a joint child tax credit and working tax credit award. The universal credit maximum income level will increase to £796 per month.

Essentially, we are making the proposed changes to reflect changes that have been made at UK level to the national living wage. I will leave it there.

Do members have any questions or comments on the draft instrument?


Willie Rennie

I have raised previously with your predecessors an issue about the take-up for eligible two-year-olds. We were previously told that the data-sharing arrangement with HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions would significantly increase the take-up, but the figures from last year showed a decrease in the actual numbers and in the percentage take-up. That is a real concern for me, given that the data-sharing arrangement is in place.

In addition, there seem to have been huge variations from one local authority to another. Has the minister looked at why there has been such variation and why we have not managed to drive up the take-up? Liberal Democrats were strong advocates of provision for that group of two-year-olds, and I am disappointed that we have not been able to give parents of those children the opportunity to take up that early learning and childcare provision when they have been offered it.

Natalie Don

I will bring in officials shortly. I absolutely agree with Willie Rennie’s points. I want the offer to be taken up for as many two-year-olds as possible.

Last year was the first year that we could rely on accurate data. As Mr Rennie has pointed out, there was a decline in take-up, which is disappointing. However, a range of work is under way to encourage and increase take-up. A series of webinars have been held with local authorities to support them to access the data and make best use of it. Webinars have been held with the Improvement Service and the Village on access to funded ELC for two-year-olds with a care-experienced parent. In addition, through the Improvement Service, we are offering one-to-one support to local authorities that want to work on maximising the uptake of those funded hours.

I absolutely agree with Mr Rennie’s point about the variation. Take-up varies from 30 per cent to up to 90 per cent. I would like to understand that variation a little bit more. Obviously, it is still relatively early days as regards our having that data. I want to look into that more as we move forward, to encourage uptake and ensure that that provision is taken up.

Willie Rennie

I am concerned about the fact that the Government has put its confidence in the data-sharing provision to solve the problem. I have previously raised the fact that the provision for two-year-olds is not available in every community, because there might not always be sufficient numbers to justify full provision. That might mean that families who do not have the wherewithal to travel would have to travel quite significant distances to access a centre.

Could the minister look at that in particular, to make sure that we do not have large areas where there is no provision, with the result that isolated individuals cannot access the provision? I think that that is one reason why we have not had the level of take-up that I would have liked. I could perhaps have understood it if the take-up was static, but the reduction in numbers is a real concern.

Natalie Don

Absolutely. As I said, I will make all efforts that I can to encourage take-up of that provision.

On the issue of rurality and distance, there are a number of reasons why uptake might not be as high for our two-year-olds as it is for our three to five-year-olds. I am certainly looking to understand the reasons for that variation.

Do the officials have anything to add?

Joanna Mackenzie (Scottish Government)

On the data that local authorities have, it is the first time that they will have known where their eligible population is. As well as enabling them to target that population with information, it aids with planning. We think that that will be beneficial in addressing some of the issues around where services are located.

As the minister said, the first data share was in June. The data on registrations is collected in September, at which point not all local authorities were signed up. We are definitely still at an early stage of the process as regards the potential of the data sharing to support planning, as well as the targeting of information.

We have not put all our eggs in one basket. Work has been continuing, with the Improvement Service in particular, to get underneath some of the local variations and processes that might be a barrier to take-up. In addition, there is the work that we did a while back with the Children and Young People Improvement Collaborative. We now have a published document that we can use that looks at not just the data on eligible families but some of the processes that might be barriers to uptake.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

Thank you, minister, and good morning to your officials.

One Parent Families Scotland and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation did some research recently that found that single parents are struggling with a lack of affordable wraparound childcare and that the issue is particularly acute for under-threes and disabled children. What will the minister do to look at single parent families and, specifically, disabled children to see whether that issue is having any impact on the lower uptake, particularly for two-year-olds but across the piece, in relation to childcare?

Natalie Don

In relation to our further expansion and announcements in the programme for government, the member will be aware that we have early adopter communities under way. Those communities were limited to four, but we added another two in the programme for government. Discussions and plans as to how we roll out in those areas are now under way.

Those early adopter communities are working with families to look at providing childcare from nine months right up to school age. As I said, it is about understanding what is best for families, what is best for the children and what is best for the local areas, which goes back to Willie Rennie’s point about locality and rurality. Work is under way to extend our current offer to ensure that it works for parents, children and families. I do not have to tell the member that we are operating under extremely difficult financial circumstances. We are trying to go as fast as we can, but more important is that we get it right for families. Single-parent families will obviously be a consideration in our work.

The Convener

We move to agenda item 3. I invite the minister to move motion S6M-11977.

Motion moved,

That the Education, Children and Young People Committee recommends that the Provision of Early Learning and Childcare (Specified Children) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2024 [draft] be approved.—[Natalie Don]

Motion agreed to.

The Convener

The committee must now produce its report on the draft instrument. Is the committee content to delegate responsibility to me, as convener, to agree the report on its behalf?

Members indicated agreement.

I thank the minister and her officials for their participation.

Meeting closed at 11:37.