Childcare provision is a hugely important service, essential in giving parents freedom and choice as to working and supporting their families. It’s also a hot topic at the moment – with Conservative MPs pushing the government to reconsider ditching Liz Truss’ proposed childcare changes and the Treasury reportedly considering expanding free childcare. But we are asking who will be included – and excluded – from changes if made, and calling for change for people who already find themselves denied state help with childcare.

For people on the immigration ten-year route to settlement, the need for childcare is particularly crucial. The route involves paying very high fees to the Home Office – adding up to a total of £12,836 – to renew their immigration status every 2.5 years or lose status and become “overstayers”. People are also often denied access to benefits, including child benefit, through the “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF) condition. This means that for people on this route – who are often black or brown parents, and usually mothers – working is absolutely non-negotiable. Working, often long hours, is the only way to provide for their families. People tell us that the financial impact of being on this route is severe, causing high amounts of stress, often leading people into debt. In this context, not only do children need childcare but the availability of free childcare is vital. And yet it is harder for people subjected to immigration control to access it – for several reasons, some of which are enforced through policy and some are effects of the Hostile Environment.

Not only does free childcare give parents the freedom to return to work and support themselves and their families, it’s beneficial to the whole family. When she helped a mother who was seeking asylum get her eldest child into nursery, our Service Manager Maria said “She’s a bright chatty girl who would flourish in a nursery environment and really benefit from the contact with other children. It also means that our client gets a bit of a break from looking after two small children all on her own. It’ll bring huge benefits to both mother and daughter in terms of the child’s development and wellbeing and also provide some structure to the week and prepare the young girl for school.”

What is available?
For 2 year olds:
15 hours free early education is available to all disadvantaged two-year old children. This includes non-UK citizens who cannot claim benefits, but are entitled as long as their income is not above a certain threshold. That means people on the 10 year route, or those receiving asylum support, whether waiting for a decision or after their claim has been rejected, are eligible. There is a specific form to fill in for people with NRPF.

For 3 to 4 year olds:
15 hours per week of free childcare is provided universally to all children who are 3-4 years old, regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status.

30 hours of free childcare is for 3 and 4 year olds is only provided when a residence requirement is met by one or both parents. This means people with NRPF are not eligible; nor are people in the asylum system.

See NRPF Network’s information pages for more detail.

This is not enough to meet what the people we work with need.

For people on the ten-year route, who are denied the support of the state so that work is the only option, the full 30 hours of free childcare is urgently needed. This should be rolled out to be universal. And while it’s positive that 15 hours for 3 and 4 year olds is currently universal, we are concerned that not enough people are aware of this. The Hostile Environment means people are often reluctant to approach authorities to claim even services they are fully entitled to, for fear of facing immigration enforcement. Equally, Hostile Environment laws force staff at those services to gatekeep, and often people are denied access mistakenly based on not having a British passport.

We recently submitted evidence to the Education Committee’s inquiry into childcare, focusing on the impact on people on the ten-year route. We’re asking:

For 30 hours of childcare for three and four year olds should be extended to people regardless of their immigration status, including people with limited leave to remain

For a greater effort to inform providers and parents of the availability of 15 hours childcare for everyone, including people with NRPF or who are seeking asylum

The end of the Hostile Environment. It must end if people are to fully benefit from their entitlements to help with childcare

The childcare system is letting people down and racist Hostile Environment policies further exclude parents under immigration control, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We’ll continue pushing for change.

To read more about the ten-year route and how we’re organising to change it, read Fatou’s blog. And look out for the publication of our joint report with the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Praxis. You can join our online launch on March 7th 2022 by registering here.