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Low and middle-income parents' understanding of childcare entitlements: A qualitative study

Primary classroom
Published: November 2018

This research looks into how low and middle income parents access childcare options and the system of entitlements available to them.


The childcare policy landscape in England is known to be complex and is undergoing a period of change at present.  This has implications for parents’ knowledge and use of different entitlements, including, the funded places for disadvantaged 2 year olds, 15 free hours for all 3 and 4 year olds, 30 hours free childcare and other entitlements available to working parents. 

This research, conducted on behalf of Save the Children UK and the Centre for Social Justice, explored how low and middle income parents view and utilise available childcare options and navigate the system of entitlements available to them.



This study, covering three areas in England, explored parents’ experiences, perceptions, and decision-making about childcare to find out:

  • What they understand about existing and new entitlements
  • Where they get information about childcare and available entitlements
  • How they interpret information they receive about childcare and entitlements
  • The concerns or uncertainties they have about current entitlements.



Suggestions for improvements emerging from the data cover four areas: information needs, communications, the applications process, and transparency around costs.

Meeting parents’ information needs by:

  • setting up a single authoritative source of online information formed by consolidating government webpages, which are trusted sources
  • informing parents of new entitlements by letter or email
  • providing a helpline for parents to discuss eligibility in relation to their personal circumstances
  • equipping Early Years professionals with up to date information so that parents can get appropriate face-to-face advice and support.

Providing targeted communications which could be:

  • linked to a child’s age alongside Tax Credit and Child Benefit statements
  • for parents seeking work by preparing Jobcentre Plus staff to discuss childcare entitlements
  • for parents in work by equipping employers to discuss entitlements and considering measures to accommodate shift work at childcare provider settings.

Improving the application process by:

  • finding ways to simplify the process
  • offering telephone or face-to-face support particularly for those with poor digital literacy
  • providing clearer information on locally available funded childcare places.

Increasing transparency by:

  • providing clearer/more explicit information on the hidden costs of childcare
  • setting out the implications of managing finances and payments when combining entitlements with benefits.



The research was conducted in two phases. Phase one comprised two focus group discussions in each area, one with parents who were not in paid work and the other with parents in paid employment.  In total 44 individuals participated in the research. Participants included those using formal childcare and those who had considered but were not using formal childcare at the time the research was conducted. The focus groups were conducted in September 2017. 

Phase two consisted of interviews with those who were using formal childcare to explore in-depth their individual experiences. In total 12 telephone interviews were conducted across October and November 2017.

Download the full report