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Charity criticises unequal access to early years support in England

New research finds inequalities in access to support services between regions, and between demographic groups, across England with lower-income parents, Black, Asian and minority ethnic parents and younger parents facing the most difficulty.

24/08/22

Charity criticises unequal access to early years support in England

A new report from Action for Children has found inequalities in access to parenting support services across England.

Surveying 2,000 parents of 0-5s across England to ask about their experiences of accessing baby and toddler groups, and parenting courses and programmes, the charity found that there was large inequalities in the support available.

Overall, 42% of parents had either struggled, or been unable, to access at least one parenting support service over the past five years. 23% – nearly a quarter – had been completely unable to access at least one service.

Lower-income parents, Black, Asian and minority ethnic parents, younger parents, and fathers, were more likely to have faced difficulty accessing services.

“Corresponding with our earlier finding that families in lower-income households were less likely to have accessed services, we also found that they were more likely than higher income groups to have faced difficulties in accessing support,” the report said. Almost half (44%) of parents in the lowest income group struggled, or were unable, to access support, compared to 37% in the highest income group. Looking just at those parents who did access support, parents in the lowest income group had found it significantly more difficult to access: 35% compared to 25% in the highest income group.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic parents were more likely (47% compared to 40%) to have struggled or been unable to access support than white parents. For just those who did access services, Black, Asian and minority ethnic parents were significantly more likely to have found them difficult to access, across all service types (40% compared to 25% of white parents).

The report found that there was also significant regional variation in access. “This regional variation demonstrates the need for better regulation of early years services between areas,” the report said. The recently published local authority family hub programme guide includes the aim to ‘increase consistency of the services accessible through the family hub network, within and between local authority areas’, but the report questions what will happen to the local areas not currently eligible for family hub funding: “Access to vital services shouldn’t depend on ‘luck’ or be a postcode lottery: parents in every area of England should be able to access the support they need.”

The charity is now calling on the government to provide parenting support to all parents ─ from pregnancy until their children start school.

“With the government currently planning its roll out of family hubs, we have the chance to make sure this support is available to all families,” it said on a petition on its website.

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