Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol

Equality and Social Justice Committee

29/11/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Altaf Hussain AS
Jane Dodds AS
Jenny Rathbone AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates AS
Sarah Murphy AS
Sioned Williams AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Claire Bennett Cyfarwyddwr, Cymunedau a Threchu Tlodi, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Communities and Tackling Poverty, Welsh Government
Julie Morgan AM Dirprwy Weinidog Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Social Services
Martyn Jones Cadeirydd Dros Dro, Pwyllgor y Comisiwn Cydraddoldeb a Hawliau Dynol yng Nghymru
Interim Chair, the Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales Committee
Nicola Edwards Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Is-adran Gofal Plant, Chwarae a'r Blynyddoedd Cynnar, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Childcare, Play and Early Years Division, Welsh Government
Rachel Thomas Pennaeth Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, Comisiynydd Plant Cymru
Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Children’s Commissioner for Wales
Ruth Coombs Pennaeth y Comisiwn Cydraddoldeb a Hawliau Dynol yng Nghymru
Head of Wales Equality and Human Rights Commission

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Claire Fiddes Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Sam Mason Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Yan Thomas Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 12:49.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 12:49.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to welcome Members and members of the public to the meeting of the Equality and Social Justice Committee. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available.

I've not received any apologies, although I know that one of our colleagues, Altaf Hussain, is currently having technical difficulties, but we hope he's going to be able to join us very shortly.

Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I'll take that as a 'no'. Finally, if I drop out of the meeting for any reason—and we've had one or two gremlins today—I will ask Sarah Murphy to temporarily chair the meeting while I endeavour to rejoin.

12:50
2. Gofal plant a chyflogaeth rhieni—sesiwn dystiolaeth
2. Childcare and parental employment—evidence session

We're now going to move on to complete our scrutiny of witnesses on our childcare and parental employment inquiry, and I'm extremely pleased to welcome Rachel Thomas from the Children's Commissioner for Wales's office, as well as Ruth Coombs, the head of Wales Equality and Human Rights Commission, and we are hoping, in due course, to be joined by Martyn Jones, Ruth's colleague, but, at the moment, he's got a minor technical problem.

Anyway, just to start us off, thank you very much for coming. When you first answer, I wonder if you can just tell us what your role exactly is. I just wondered if you could both tell us why it is the Welsh Government hasn't really heard the evidence you gave when we first opened up the childcare offer to all three and four-year-olds with working parents, and why the importance that you attach to child development was not given as much weight as the importance of enabling parents to return to work. So, I wondered if you'd just like to say anything further, other than the excellent information you both provided in your written information. Rachel, do you want to start?

Thank you, Chair, and good afternoon, Members. Thank you for inviting us along this afternoon. I'm head of policy and public affairs in the children's commissioner's office. Sally Holland, the children's commissioner, sends her apologies this afternoon; she's out on a school visit that's had to be rearranged multiple times due to the pandemic, so it was important to keep that engagement with children and young people. 

In reflecting on when we gave evidence to the Children, Young People and Education Committee when the childcare funding Bill came through, I remember quite a strong discussion about the fact that the terms of the childcare offer were a specifically worded manifesto commitment, and so, notwithstanding the evidence that we put forward about gaps in school readiness and the importance of childcare as being seen as a service first and foremost for children and their development, it was almost that it had been painted into a corner and there was nothing that could be done at that point because the manifesto commitment was so specific. We did have a discussion at that point about the fact that whilst the Labour Party, in creating their manifesto, wouldn't be subject to the duties around children's rights impact assessments, the Government in enacting that Bill would be subject to those duties, and would, therefore, have to ensure that children's right were being upheld when they enacted a Bill such as that. The impact assessment that came with the Bill wasn't very detailed and wasn't really sufficient to consider those points, I think, because, as I said, the decision had effectively already been taken on the terms of the offer. So, we'd be really keen, through this session this afternoon, to discuss, perhaps, how the offer could be amended and flexed in light of how it's been rolled out so far.

Ruth Coombs, your evidence, also, is quite fierce on the rights of children, and I just wondered if you wanted to add to what you've already said in your written information.

I'm Ruth Coombs, head of Wales Equality and Human Rights Commission. We would certainly agree with that Rachel has just said, and our concerns are around impact assessments being undertaken at the point of bringing forth policy or legislation, children's rights impact assessments, equality impact assessments, and using the evidence that is out there. There was clear evidence about attainment gaps in our 'Is Wales Fairer?' 2018 report and how those gaps widen, and our concerns there were that the offer was very constrained and very, very focused, and almost niche in the way that it was being offered.

12:55

Very good. And finally from me, before I move on to other Members, looking at how the childcare offer has been rolled out over the last four or five years, how do you think it's achieved the Welsh Government's objective to help parents, particularly mothers, to return to work or increase the hours that they are able to work?

Thank you. Our written evidence shows statistics there that actually it hasn't made that big a difference, particularly for people who've been trying to get back into the workforce post April 2020, where they've not been able to find any childcare, let alone one that is culturally appropriate. We also know that there are particular difficulties for families with certain protected characteristics. One of the things that we have been told there's quite a lot of evidence around is that it doesn't actually wrap around, so it doesn't work, and because it's targeted at three and four-year-olds it means that working parents wanting to return to the workplace, or indeed having to return to the workplace when their children are younger than that, after maternity or paternity leave, find it very, very difficult to find affordable childcare that is close to the locality. That is a really big issue in Wales.

It is, particularly if you don't have a car. Rachel, do you want to come in next?

If I may, Chair, thank you. Just two points from me on this one. The Government's year 4 evaluation of the childcare offer came out at the tail end of last week, and it was clear that whilst there have been some small increases in take-up, I think 88 per cent of those who were accessing the childcare offer were already accessing formal childcare before that, so it wasn't people changing their circumstances, and 58 per cent, I think, said that it had made no impact on their employment in terms of return to work or hours and salary. There were some groups that were benefiting from the offer, and I think some limited benefit, particularly at the lower income end, which is welcome to see, but it doesn't seem to have had a significant impact on those who were already, effectively, in the system.

But the other point that I also wanted to make was that whilst it's really clear from the evidence included in the Government's own paper that came out last week there is a particular detrimental impact on mothers, I think it's also important to be really careful in how we set the societal narrative around this, in that we don't want to make it seem like childcare is a women's issue, and so that's not the woman or the mother's primary responsibility. Whilst I don't think the committee is doing that in any way, it's important to make the point that parental employment is one of the aims, but we need to just be careful that we don't accidentally reinforce the message that childcare is a mother's issue primarily. 

Thank you very much for that.

Welcome to Jane Dodds.

Unless Martyn has any burning issue he wants to come in on at this moment, I'm going to move on to Sarah Murphy and the questions she wanted to ask.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, all. I'm going to drill down a little bit more into the impact of the current childcare offer on the children from families who are not eligible for the provision. I think, in the written evidence, everybody mentioned specifically parents who aren't working and the impact that that has on low income. So, specifically, in the children commissioner's report, it said that the millennium cohort study shows that children from the poorest families are around 10 months behind those from better off backgrounds in terms of development by the age of three. So, I wanted to ask you all—. The design of the childcare offer was likely to increase the school readiness gap between children from non-working households and those with working parents. So, could you all set out the extent to which this has happened in practice from what you've seen and what the impacts of this are on children? Rachel, can I come to you first, because this has mostly been taken from the children's commissioner's written evidence? 

Of course. Thank you, Sarah. So, yes, we referred to the millennium cohort study in the evidence, and we haven't done any particular follow-up study of this, although we know that the Government are closely monitoring take-up, as they should be with such a large-scale investment that they've made here, really. As we just discussed in the previous question, it hasn't really changed the proportion so far of those who are attending formal childcare, in the main. So, although we haven't followed this up directly ourselves, we are starting to hear from professionals' emerging, albeit anecdotal, evidence about children's behaviours having perhaps regressed during the pandemic period and the periods where they were out of contact with formal services. So, those are things like language development and social skills. And it's notable that, actually, in parents' own responses to the Government survey in the year 4 analysis they published last week, they all noted really strong developmental benefits of being in the childcare offer. So, I think 94 per cent of parents perceived that their child's social development had increased through the offer, 88 per cent saw cognitive and language development benefits, and 87 per cent behavioural development, too. So, whilst we haven't necessarily got the impact on those who haven't been in the offer, we can see a strong impact on those who have been able to receive that formal childcare service.

There are some other sets of data that look at the longer term path. So, for example, the most recent data on school exclusions notes that, at all stages of education, children who are on free school meals are at least three times more likely to be excluded than their peers. So, this is something that we can see having a longer term impact, which is why it's so important for that child development element to be part of considering the offer. And there was also a report from the Nuffield Foundation in October of this year. It only looked at England, but it started to look at the short-term impact on children starting school since the pandemic. And they, again, saw evidence of children being behind their peers in terms of learning and personal and social development, and that was particularly the case for disadvantaged children. So, nothing specific and up-to-date from us, but there's definitely still that concern that we would hold strongly and some emerging evidence to support that in the wider sense. 

13:00

Thank you very much. And, Ruth and Martyn, I'd be interested to know your thoughts on that, on the development of children. But I guess what this is really drawing attention to is that, with the childcare offer, is there too much focus on the economy and the economic benefits, and not enough on the child's development, and the priority being actually what is best for the child? So, would Martyn and Ruth like to answer that?

Okay, thank you. I'll come in and then Martyn can add. I think that's a really important point. As I know we know from evidence from such things as 'Is Wales Fairer?', those inequalities started to reduce in early years in 2018, but they are widening again. We know they're widening again, and there are lots of different reasons for that. And we can't neglect the impact of the pandemic on that, because we know that those children who were least likely to be in school were children from ethnic minority backgrounds, disabled children and children from disabled families, and children of lone working parents, who are more likely to be women. And there are a lot of reasons for that, but because we've got that inequality that exists already, this should be—. When looking at making decisions, things like socioeconomic duty need to be taken into account when making these big decisions, and what we must do is we must narrow these attainment gaps and not exacerbate them. Because we also know that part of the reason for that is because sole parents, people from ethnic minority backgrounds and disabled parents are more likely to be in low-paid, insecure work, which was the work that shut down, or the work where they actually couldn't work from home and so were at more risk of bringing home coronavirus into the family. So, there are a lot of interconnected issues here that need some very robust unpicking. I don't know whether Martyn's got anything he'd like to add to that. Thank you.

Yes. Afternoon, all. I'm Martyn Jones. I'm the interim chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's Wales committee. Very little to add to the setting that Ruth set out there, and I think that, if I'd zone in on one bit, just to provide some added value, it would be the interconnections bit. Yes, the impact of COVID has to be considered here by Welsh Government, but how we utilise our Welsh Government's own enactment of the socioeconomic duty here, and the work that you're doing towards implementation of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and how that can impact locally on these issues, must be considered. So, whilst you can sometimes really, really zone in on the specific issues in relation to children and mothers and women in particular in this space, it's really important to understand that there are policy and legislative levers that we can utilise outside the specifics of this that will have a direct impact.

13:05

Diolch, Martyn. That follows on really nicely to my last question. To what extent does Flying Start help to address these issues, and should the scheme be expanded beyond the geographical areas in which it is delivered?

I'm not an expert in Flying Start, but, if you want me to start the response there, absolutely, I think interventions previously that have been determined in terms of their roll-out on the basis of the Wales index of multiple deprivation have, we know, with the benefit of hindsight, overlook certain pockets of deprivation in areas that we need to drill down into, so any future interventions that allow agendas like Flying Start to have the coverage that we actually need is absolutely critical.

That's brilliant. Thank you. Rachel, do you want to come in on that as well?

Sure, yes. Thank you. So, we all know that the geographical limits of Flying Start are very specific, almost to the point of one side of a street being eligible and the other not, and there can also then be difficulties when you have eligibility for certain programmes like Flying Start; quite often, then, you passport on to other benefits as well, so not only are the families that miss out on the Flying Start provision losing that, but then they also lose the opportunities to get on to other grants and benefits and things. And so we've discussed on many occasions with the Government about ensuring that poverty proofing looks at, when you're not eligible for one thing, whether that then effects eligibility or knowledge or awareness of other provisions that then might be of benefit, even if you're not within the current boundaries of Flying Start.

I think, whilst we don't yet know the full details, the Labour and Plaid co-operation agreement has the potential to do some of the legwork here in terms of the Flying Start two-year-olds offer. One might imagine that something similar to that kind of offer would be a starting point for that universal two-year-olds offer, and that can only be welcomed, really, and is something to push through as soon as can possibly be achieved, accepting that it'll likely need to be phased in, and so the best time to start is now, really.

I think the Flying Start offer is so strong because it does have good staff qualifications and things, so there would be an element of staff training and things that would, again, need to be phased in, I think, to be able to improve the offer, but I know that quality of provision is something that's really important to this committee as well. And so, if we're looking at making child development the centre of this, then it's right that we should be investing not just in the offer itself, but in the training that goes with it to make it a high-quality offer for all that are accessing it.

Thank you. Unless Ruth wants to add anything to what Martyn said, I'll move on to Ken Skates.

Thank you, Chair. I'm just going to ask some questions about how flexible Government-funded provision is across Wales and whether there needs to be a greater degree of flexibility. So, first of all, what sort of evidence exists, what sort of evidence can you offer, concerning the flexibility of support and whether the support system does actually take account fully of the needs of parents and children from different demographic groups? And if there needs to be greater flexibility in the system, how do you think that that could be achieved? I don't know who wants to offer up some thoughts first on that.

I'm happy to come in on that, thank you. So, I think something that Ruth touched on very briefly in one of her opening comments was about the locations in which the childcare offer and other provision is offered. And so because you've got different aspects of provision under different sets of funding, with the universal part that everyone gets and the 10 or the 12 hours that you can get, and then the 20 hours that comes under the funded formal childcare offer, quite often you will see children having to be moved to different settings through the day to access the free provision, and so that can't be conducive to parental employment, if you're going to have to make arrangements to move your child from one setting to another after two hours during the day. I know it's something that the Government are keen to explore, that child's experience through the whole setting and ensuring that all settings are delivering that high-quality offer, so that it's not then that you can only go to certain settings to access the provision.

I think that has to be a priority area to look at, because we also saw then through the pandemic—and this is covered in the Government's recent report as well—that because of contact groups and mixing and those kinds of concerns, there were settings that said, 'You can't come to us if you've been to another setting during the day.' So then that meant that, actually, parents were not sending their children to the free childcare provision that they were entitled to because they needed to keep them in the other setting, so they were ending up having to pay the top-up costs on that, even though they were entitled to a free childcare offer. Whilst nobody could have foreseen the pandemic when this offer was originally brought into force, that ability to flex—. The fact that children were having to go to all these settings created that additional problem then of not being able to access the offer when there was much more restriction around those contact groups. So, I think that would be a key area where more needs to be looked at in terms of who can deliver the offer, so that the child's experience is better, so that they're not being shipped around all day. Then that's bound to help with parental employment as well—they're not having to finish early or move or not take up the provision.

13:10

If I may, Chair, I'd just like to add to that. Rachel has been very eloquent on this moving people around and children being shunted from pillar to post, as it were. That's difficult enough for any child, but for a child with additional learning needs, a child who is disabled, a child who is neuro-diverse, it makes it impossible for families to be able to take advantage of free childcare offers, because they simply cannot cope with the different changes and different movements. It's also very difficult for children of ethnic minority parents, because the reassurance of those cultural understandings is not there if people are being moved around, and we know that disabled children, children from some ethnic minorities, children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families, are more likely to be out of school for reasons of exclusion et cetera, and bouncing them around different settings that they're not comfortable with will only exacerbate that. So, it does need to be looked at at a root and branch level. 

Thanks. I'm just going to pick up on one of the things that you touched on there, Ruth. It regards ethnic diversity within the workforce. We've heard concerns from previous witnesses of a lack of cultural awareness amongst some childcare providers, and also concern that there are low levels of ethnic minority representation within the childcare workforce. In fact, we also heard that there is racism within the sector. What would your views be of this?

Certainly, there is anecdotal evidence, even if there's not hard evidence, of discriminatory, or potentially discriminatory, experiences in different childcare settings. The evidence is there to demonstrate that, for example, our schools workforce is not reflective of our diverse population. Unfortunately, there isn't the statistical evidence available for a lot of different childcare settings because we simply don't collect it and disaggregate it by ethnicity. However, if the formal education system is not reflective, I think we could be safe to assume that the before and after care, and before pre-school care, is not reflective of that. And there seems to have been very little emphasis on building that diversity thus far. I think that the way that the new curriculum is going to be looked at, and the commitments for statutory-age children and workforce there is encouraging and promising, and I think that that could be used as a model for expanding that throughout the childcare experience, and I think that's really important.  

13:15

I'd very much echo what Ruth has said there, and just one tiny thing to add, really, is that an additional element is that awareness of the offer itself is low amongst those who are not already in the formal childcare setting, and also parents' understanding of how it all works is not particularly strong either. And that's not to criticise parents; it's the complexity of the offer and the breakdown in the way that it's done. So, that might be hard enough when English is your first language as well, but there might be additional complexities with availability of clear, straightforward information on where to go to register and what you can get where in other languages as well. That will likely be a factor, given that, across the board, parents' understanding of just how it all works is not particularly strong. 

Very quickly, I just wanted to add to the comments that have previously been made and try and address the point that Ken Skates has mentioned there. I think this is why EHRC is so supportive of Welsh Government's race equality action plan and, contained within it, the necessity for a disparity audit. We simply don't have the data in Wales to make correct assessments and then, obviously, direct resources at what the real problems are in relation to race, and this is a perfect example of it. I think we've all picked up that there's quite strong anecdotal evidence that there's limited take-up and there's limited representation in the workforces providing services, but we do need to drill down in far more detail and understand what that looks like, so that we're able to adequately respond. 

Okay, thanks. Before I move on to Jane Dodds, Altaf, you had a supplementary question. 

Thank you very much. It is to question 3. What do we need to do to attract more people from an ethnic minority background to consider a career in childcare? 

That's a very, very good question, and we know that we haven't—. We don't appear to have necessarily cracked that nut in terms of statutory education, and it's going to be even harder. I think it's about getting community knowledge and community understanding, and for community champions to go out and say what a good job it is. So, we need to find some people who are respected in their communities that are working in this area, or can champion work in this area, so that people do feel that they're going to be valued. And the other thing that we have to think about also is not simply having appropriate provision for children from ethnic minorities, but also educating more broadly so that parents of children who do not come from an ethnic minority feel as comfortable placing their children with somebody who comes from an ethnic minority background. So, it's not just education within ethnic minority communities; it's got to be wholesale, it's got to be wider than that, otherwise there is a risk of us having siloed provision, and that won't help to build social cohesion and community cohesion, which is hugely important to breaking down discrimination and racism in Wales.  

Okay. I think we want to move on now to how we might shape future provision, in light of many of the comments. Jane. 

Thank you very much. I do apologise for being late, but great to meet you all on Zoom. I just really wanted to focus on the changes in childcare provision, and your thoughts around those. Rachel just touched base on this earlier, that is, the deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru to expand free childcare for two-year-olds up to two and a half hours a day. It's currently available to three and four-year-olds and two-year-olds in the Flying Start programme. I just wondered if you could just comment on your thoughts around that, and also what a Rolls-Royce childcare offer may look like. I'm particularly interested in the Welsh-medium aspects of this as well. As we know, the Plaid Cymru and Labour agreement focuses on Welsh language provision. So, yes, a lot in there, but looking forward, what could it look like, and what do you feel about the prospect of the arrangements coming up? Maybe if I could go: Rachel, Ruth and Martyn. Thank you.

13:20

Thank you, Jane. Yes. The agreement as it stands has a whole lot to welcome for children and young people, really. We were really pleased to see universal free school meals for primary school children; sanctuary drop-in centres for mental health; education support; eliminating profit in children's care; and of course the expanded childcare offer. Whilst this is really welcome as the first start in this and a move into the younger age group, it still doesn't address the younger children's issue where, as Ruth touched on earlier, coming off maternity and paternity leave parents often aren't sure what choice to make, and quite often, in families on the lowest income, that nought to two or nought to three age group is the time when they struggle most financially, and so there's a real gap there. But also, with the current childcare offer for the total of 30 hours starting from age 3, it will need to be careful that it doesn't create a drop-off at age 3, so that you might get provision that you weren't previously getting under Flying Start at the age of two, but if you're then not in employment or a specific amount of education and training then you wouldn't be eligible for the current childcare offer in the terms that it stands, so there's a real caution there to not give something and then take it away, because that will be—. Focusing on the committee's inquiry being around parental employment, then it will obviously be difficult for parents to plan and sustain their employment, were that to happen, but of course it goes without saying that that wouldn't be beneficial to the child to give them a provision and then take it away. It would be very difficult for them to understand why they're no longer allowed to go to that setting, particularly if their peers are still attending. They might feel like they've done something wrong or that they weren't coping or they weren't clever enough or they weren't good enough to stay, so that's a message that we definitely wouldn't want to happen. The Government recognises that the early childhood education and care principles have to focus on progressive universalism, and I know that's something that both Plaid and the Labour Government reference quite a lot, and there's talk of putting child development and reduction of poverty at the heart of the Government's proposals, but at the moment the current childcare offer is completely at odds with that and that will have to change for this to be successful.

Thank you. Absolutely. We would agree with the comments from the children's commissioner on this one. I think that one of the other things that really needs to be looked at, whilst welcoming a commitment to work together to improve, there needs—. Obviously, the devil is always in the detail, and one of the things that it needs to address—. Well, there are a couple of things, from our perspective. One is low-paid workers. We know that if you are in a low-paid job you are more likely to be in insecure work, you are more likely to be potentially on a zero-hours contract, you are more likely to be a shift worker. And the childcare offers as they are on offer at the moment are very much focused on that traditional Monday to Friday, 30 hours a week-type job, whereas people from ethnic minority backgrounds, single parents, people from socioeconomically deprived backgrounds, tend not to work in those traditional patterns, so being able to access truly flexible childcare where it's available at the time when you need it is really important for people to be able to even get into the workplace.

And, of course, the other element of it is that—talking about not wanting children to fall off cliff edges, as it were—when children go to school, there is the additional difficulty of what happens to the offer during school holiday times, and we all know that paid provision in school holidays is exorbitantly expensive. You see it all the time, these offers: 'Oh yes, come and join this football club, this hockey club, this singing club for a week', and then you realise it's kind of like £30 a day. So, only the most advantaged of workers' children can actually access that, and that's just exacerbating that unfairness across the piece. I'll stop there and let Martyn add our other comments. Thank you.

13:25

Thank you very much. Martyn, could you also comment on Welsh-language provision as well? That would be great, just as a thought. Thank you.

Yes, happy to, and obviously, we welcome much of what's in the co-operation plan, because there are equality measures mentioned in there that we're glad to see and we would like to see progressed in the manner it's been suggested, and obviously, that includes the move towards our 1 million people speaking Welsh, which is something that EHRC is totally committed to. But also to accept that, alongside that, the inherent diversity, which, again—not wanting to overcook this slightly—but the need for that disparity audit so that we understand what marginalised and underrepresented groups look like needs to sit alongside that. So, absolutely committed to supporting Welsh Government in that expansion from a Welsh-medium perspective, but hoping that that will trigger a similar parallel in terms of provision of specialist need for minority groups.

I think, addressing the other parts of your question, the bits that I know that Ruth has left to me, our suggestion is that there should be an introduction of a dedicated, non-transferrable and flexible use-it-or-lose-it shared parental leave for parents, with a pay rate that acts as a real incentive to take up. We want to see maternity and shared parental leave as a day one right for all employees, and include equivalent provisions for agency and self-employed workers to ensure that they can access paid shared parental leave at the same rate as employees. So, very much in line with what Ruth has set out, what we'd like to see, ultimately, is that the provision is in line with parental need and obviously the children's needs as well. But, yes, we really want to encourage parents to share childcare responsibilities, because ultimately, not surprisingly, the point EHRC would make here is the continued gender segregation of care labour and how that manifests in all areas, including this one. It is predominantly women who are required to pick up this responsibility and to pay the cost financially of having to do so. 

Thank you. May I just ask very quickly on the back of that, Martyn? Do you also feel that the offer should be open to parents—you made a very good point about women—who are not working?

Absolutely. I think that's where the—. I mean, one of the points that we've got in our submission, I think, is that it's the high cost of social care that makes it prohibitive, and the TUC mapped out for us that, I think in the 2008-16 period, while real wages had fallen, their estimation is that childcare costs had risen by about 48 per cent. That just froze out so many people from tapping into these services.

Before I move on to Altaf, I wonder if you could very briefly, Martyn, say what you mean by 'use it or lose it'. I understand the concept generally, but in this context, just illustrate it.

I don't know if Ruth wants to—. She might have a more intimate understanding and background in this that—. [Inaudible.]—succinct.

13:30

This comes out of a significant piece of work that we did under our Working Forward banner a few years ago, and we can supply the committee with more information on that, if it would be helpful. One of the things that we found through research and surveying people was that if there was that option that you could have this shared parental leave, but if you didn't take it up, then it would be gone, rather than this complicated system that there is; it's hugely complex at the moment. People who are PHD graduates can't work out how the system of shared parental leave works. But if it was a case of parent A gets X, parent B gets Y, if you don't take up X or Y, you don't have it, that would mean that men, in particular—because we know that less than 1 per cent of men take up that offer of parental leave, if they knew that it was their entitlement, they could have it as a right, it wasn't something that they had to negotiate, but if they turned it down they couldn't pick it up later, more people would take that offer up, and then they would have the opportunity of spending time with their families and everyone's a winner.

Chair, thank you. There were some problems with the computer, so I'm thankful to you for that. But I've been staying and watching it all. Now, with regard to the changes that the witnesses have suggested—they can deliver high-quality care and support workforce development et cetera. How will the changes you have suggested contribute to providing high-quality childcare provision that can help to address disadvantage and to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap, and what are the barriers to achieving these objectives?

Thank you, Chair. Yes, I'm happy to. So, we touched on it previously, but I think there would be a workforce training issue to make sure that all of the provision is high quality and everyone is able to offer the full, formal childcare offer. But I think it kind of comes back to the first question that came from the Chair in that you need to reframe the policy as a policy that's based on child development and the benefits that brings. So, if you flipped it around—. Our position would be that we'd like to see a universal childcare offer, and if you flipped the narrative around that this is an offer to children for their development, not only will that be hugely beneficial to all children and address those problems about gaps in attainment and school readiness, that will also then have the knock-on effect of freeing up more non-working parents to enter or re-enter the workforce. So, it's the same end goal, but by flipping it around so that it focuses on the child and their development, you're ensuring, then, that all children have the benefit of the high-quality provision that is, for those who access it, so helpful and beneficial. It really needs to be universal, and that, then, can help with the parental employment by flipping that narrative around.

I think the committee may be interested in the specific children's rights considerations around the way that the offer is designed and delivered, and I'm happy to talk about that more, either now or later in the session, if that would help.

Yes. Thank you very much. With regard to how should the Government support—

Shall we just see if the others, Martyn or Ruth, want to add to that, before you move on?

Thank you. If I may. We've known for decades that attainment—. There are two very strong markers of children's attainment and lack of attainment: one is free school meals indicators, and the other is literacy levels—maternal literacy levels. There was work done in the Inner London Education Authority I don't know how many decades ago, but there's not really been anything to contradict that. In fact, there's been evidence to support it. If we are able to encourage and support more young children to be in free childcare provision, we are giving them a more level starting point. In fact, this is—. And I know that, obviously, the Flying Start approach has been really helpful, and the idea of that was to boost, because we know where the wall is, and it's not about bringing the wall down but making sure that everybody has got access to the wall, which may be to look over it, and that might mean you need a bigger stepladder.

But, at the moment, because things are really available for people who are working, it means that non-working parents aren't able to get into, or find it very difficult to get into, the workplace, because, if you want to access education, training or skills, you can't access the offer because you're not working. So, it could also provide a stepping stone to further education and skills development for parents and families, pulling the whole family out of poverty. We know that Wales has got among the highest levels of child poverty, particularly for under-fours, in the UK and beyond, so it needs to be a multipronged initiative that brings the two together, and I think that that, if it's couched in that way, will be—. It can also be seen in terms of economic development; it's money well spent, because it's not simply enhancing the outcomes of the children, which is hugely important; it also gives a benefit to the families immediately, or in the very short term. So, you can't not win.

13:35

Martyn, did you want to add anything to what Ruth said, or shall I move back to Altaf?

Very, very quickly, Chair, just to add that Rachel threw a point in there I didn't want missed by the committee, and that's the issue of rights. It's really important to just understand that, if we're trying to assess what the benefit of taking this forward is, and ultimately what it can achieve, it will allow Welsh Government to achieve its commitment under at least three UN convention rights in relation to children, to women, and, when we're talking about specialist needs, along the lines of disability as well. So, that allows us to do that.

I think the only other bit I'd add is that it's important to understand that this early years intervention, we know through the adverse childhood experiences agenda and what Public Health Wales has allowed us to understand of those early experiences, how, ultimately, that is a predictor for life more broadly. The learning from the additional learning needs areas—we know that people with learning disabilities and people who are neurodiverse, particularly those who are undiagnosed—. Today's young people in the pupil referral units are next year's or the following year's prisoners. They are people that are more likely to enter into careers that take them into contact with criminal justice systems and, ultimately, end up in custody, and not getting—. A lot of that can be tackled in early years interventions, and I think we need to really understand the holistic impact that we're likely to achieve by getting this right.

Yes. Thank you very much, Chair. How should the Welsh Government support—[Inaudible.]—development and improve working conditions in the early years sector and improve their status, particularly in extending childcare provision? Thank you. Rachel, yes. 

I'm not sure if everyone else had a glitch in the audio, but I didn't hear the entire question, but I think it was to do with—. Was it the workforce and—?

That's correct. I can read it again: how should the Welsh Government support workforce development and improve working conditions in the early years sector and how will they improve their status, particularly in extending childcare provision?

Okay, thank you. Again, coming back to the co-operation agreement, hopefully, the development of the national care service can contribute to this in terms of making it a high-profile and desirable career to enter into and to be supported with the training and living wage-type salaries that would support that. We know from the health service that there has always been a lot of positive recruitment campaigns around entering nursing and the benefits that that will bring, and that sort of thing, but there hasn't necessarily been the same match in the care service, and in childcare in particular. One only needs to look at the experiences in the pandemic and how, quite rightly, childcare workers were seen as key, critical workers in keeping everything going in terms of not only support for the economy but the provision for the children that that offered during those lengthy periods when they might have been out of contact with other services. So, I think it's something about—touching on what we spoke about previously, really—showing that it's a desirable and valued provision, through investment in salaries, but also in the narrative that comes with it around the benefits that there are in working in a field such as this.

13:40

Okay. Can you be brief, Ruth and Martyn—because I know Sioned wants to come in on something slightly different—if there's anything further you want to add to that?

Yes, I think that one of the things that I would say is we are in the process of conducting an inquiry into the impact of the pandemic on low-paid workers in health and social care. And although it's a slightly different sector, some of those challenges will have absolute read-across to this context. So, I would, if I may, suggest that the committee looks out for that. That report is due to be published early in the new calendar year, and the recommendations will be pertinent for its perusal. Thank you.

Thank you very much. Sioned, do you want to pick up your questions?

Ie, diolch, Cadeirydd. Cwpwl o gwestiynau yn edrych ar ofal plant i blant oedran ysgol. So, symud i ffwrdd o'r cynnig gofal plant presennol a Dechrau'n Deg—eisiau holi'ch barn chi ar hynny. Os allwch chi roi eich barn ynglŷn â beth fyddai'r prif gamau y gallai Llywodraeth Cymru eu cymryd i gynyddu argaeledd gofal cofleidiol a gofal yn ystod y gwyliau i blant oedran ysgol. Mae rhai ohonoch chi wedi cyffwrdd yn barod ar ddiffyg argaeledd a chost yr argaeledd ar gyfer gofal yn ystod y gwyliau, ond yn fwy eang efallai y gofal cofleidiol yn ei gyfanrwydd fel sector a'r heriau o gwmpas hynny. 

Yes, thank you, Chair. I have a couple of questions looking at childcare for school-age children. So, moving away from the childcare offer at present and Flying Start, I wanted to ask you about that. Could you give your view about what are the main steps that the Welsh Government could take to increase the availability of wraparound and holiday care for school-age children? Some of you have touched on the lack of availability and cost of the provision of holiday care, but more broadly the wraparound care in its entirety as a sector and the challenges around that.  

I'm happy to come in on that one. So, in terms of holiday provision in particular, we were really pleased to see the Summer of Fun, the Haf o Hwyl funding that was in place over this summer, which came from a round-table that we'd organised, noting that the impact of the pandemic on children had stopped them going to their social clubs and events, and wanting to re-energise that provision. So, the Government invested £5 million in that over the summer and have since put a further £20 million now in place into what they're calling 'the winter of well-being', to continue the access—free access—to provision during the holidays. And that's in a range of provision, so not just sports clubs or traditional play schemes, but cultural activities, and people like National Museum Wales are involved in that provision.

And the principles that sat behind that investment were really about being free at the point of delivery and also access to Welsh-medium provision and a range of provision, and ensuring access for children with additional needs and that sort of thing as well. So, we were really pleased that those principles underpinned that, and we know that the Government are evaluating the Haf o Hwyl at the moment, but have already invested this money in the winter of well-being. And that's exactly the sort of thing that shows that that is a child-centred investment, and so that money has been well spent in direct free provision that's available to children and young people with all of those accessibility criteria. And a lot of that was being delivered on school sites and things as well, so that comes back to not shipping children around to different provision during the day.

And another key principle of it was not having competition between different schemes. So, quite often, you might have a particular scheme that's funded that's got to operated on the school site but there was already perhaps successful childcare provision on that site and so the last thing you want is competing provision when actually what we're just trying to do is reach as many children as possible rather than have three schemes operating in one locality and then areas where there's nothing being offered. So, I'm not sure whether anything will come out on that through the evaluation, but a key principle of the funding was about broadening the access rather than having lots of provision in places where there already is some. But I think also that stuff, then, is linked to the pilot around how the school day could look and whether add-on after-school development-type activities could be part of that—not a formal school day, but ensuring that those opportunities are more available to everyone and not just those who can afford to spend lots of money on them. So, those are the areas that we would focus on in ensuring wraparound and holiday care.

13:45

I'd just like to add consideration for what can the community do, looking at this in terms of the community all working together. We know there have been some really good examples during the pandemic of local communities coming together to improve various different aspects of children and young people's and families' lives.

So, looking at the added value that community groups can give in this space, quite often, a public body running a scheme can cost quite a lot of money; there are other ways of doing it, and sometimes those community initiatives can have a different approach and a different cost rating. I think we're going to have to be really—. I think it needs to be really clear what we mean by wraparound care, and what does wraparound care mean for parents and their children. And when I say parents, that's shorthand for parents, carers, guardians, whoever is responsible for the care of those children.

I think we also need to include that provision for looked-after children, and what are the impacts for looked-after children, particularly children who are looked after in care home settings, because, when they go home, they're going home to something very different than my children came home to, for example. And we also need to look at the particular needs of disabled children and children and families from ethnic minority backgrounds. And again, anything that we do would need to be matched with confidence building and understanding and some form of campaign to say, 'Actually, this is fine; this is good for your children.' Those of us that have been working parents—I was a working single mother for a very long time, and I ended up with the classic working mother's guilt. And so, badging this as something that is good for children, and not a place to put children so that you can work, would have a huge—it would make a really big difference to how people feel about families and work, and work and home-life balance, and I think that's really important.

Thank you. That's very important. We've sort of run out of time. Martyn, is there anything you wanted to add to that, just very briefly?

Very briefly, just to add to the diversity point that Ruth made, it's really important that that is factored in to this conversation, and, of course, the issues that she talked about in terms of looked-after children. The ex chief exec of the Welsh Local Government Association was approached about the co-operation agreement over the weekend, and he emphasised, reminded us all, that a lot of this out-of-county looked-after children arrangement is actually out of country, and that's kind of, again, working your way back from worst-case scenario, the things we need to have in mind when we're trying to design these provisions.

Thank you very much. Thank you very much for the depth and breadth of your evidence. We will send you a transcript, which—. It's very important you just check it to make sure that you haven't been misheard, and then we'll obviously be publishing that as a public document. So, thank you very much indeed for your attendance today and we hope that you find our final report interesting sometime in the new year. All right. Thank you. And we'll look out for yours as well, Ruth. Thank you very much indeed.

13:50
3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i eithrio'r cyhoedd o eitemau 4, 7 ac 8 o gyfarfod heddiw
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to exclude the public from items 4, 7 and 8 of today's meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 4, 7 ac 8 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from eitems 4, 7 and 8 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

So, I now propose that the committee goes into private session briefly for item 4, before we resume to hear the Deputy Minister at 2 o'clock, and also that we meet in private session for items 7 and 8 today. Is that agreed? Thank you. Can we go into private session, please?

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 13:50.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 13:50.

14:00

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 14:01.

The committee reconvened in public at 14:01.

5. Gofal plant a chyflogaeth rhieni—sesiwn dystiolaeth
5. Childcare and parental employment—scrutiny session

Welcome back to our final session on the importance of childcare and parental employment. I'd very much like to welcome the Deputy Minister for Social Services, for whom childcare is in your portfolio, and I wondered if you'd just like to introduce the officials you've brought with you.

Yes, thank you very much, Jenny. I'm very pleased to be here at this committee, and I'm very pleased to have Claire Bennett with me, and Nicola Edwards. 

Thank you very much. Sioned, you were going to ask the first questions. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Prynhawn da. Dwi'n mynd i ofyn cwestiynau i ddechrau ynglŷn ag effeithiolrwydd y ddarpariaeth gofal presennol sy'n cael ei hariannu gan Lywodraeth Cymru. Dwi eisiau gofyn i ba raddau ydych chi o'r farn bod darpariaeth gofal plant yn cefnogi cyflogaeth rhieni, yn enwedig mamau. Ydy'r pwyslais yna wedi bod yn un cywir? Achos yn ôl y dystiolaeth rydyn ni wedi clywed, mae nifer o grwpiau ddim yn credu taw dyna ddylai fod wedi bod yn bwyslais, a bod y data, efallai, yn tystio i hynny—bod e ddim wedi bod mor llwyddiannus â hynny, a bod 88 y cant o'r rheini sydd yn cymryd mantais o'r cynnig, roedden nhw'n barod yn defnyddio gwasanaethau gofal plant. Felly, dwi eisiau clywed am y data ŷch chi'n gwybod amdano fe, a hefyd os ydych chi'n meddwl ei fod e wedi cyflawni'r amcan oedd wedi'i ddatgan gan Lywodraeth Cymru o helpu rhieni, mamau yn arbennig, i ddychwelyd i'r gwaith. Diolch.

Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon to you all. I'm going to ask some questions to start about the effectiveness of current Welsh Government-funded childcare provision in Wales. I want to ask to what extent you think that Welsh Government-funded childcare provision supports the employment of parents, particularly mothers. Has that emphasis been correct? Because according to the evidence that we have heard, many groups do not believe that that should have been the emphasis, and that the data shows that—that it has not been that successful, and that 88 per cent of those who take up the offer already used childcare services. So, I want to hear about the data you're aware of, and also whether you think it has achieved the objective that was stated by the Welsh Government, namely, to help parents, and mothers in particular, to return to work. Thank you.

Diolch, Sioned, and thank you very much for those questions. Yes, I believe the childcare support that has been given through the childcare offer has been extremely successful in terms of supporting working parents. The childcare offer was obviously developed in response to calls for support from working parents, because we know how expensive childcare is. And I think it's important to make the point that we do fund other childcare as well as the childcare offer, through Flying Start and through the European social fund parents, childcare and employment programme, where we help parents back into work. But the evaluations that we've done every year about the offer have been very positive, and the reports have consistently found that parents felt it had improved their employment choices, with a greater proportion of women reporting that they were able to work more hours since taking up the offer, and they've had more flexibility in the jobs that they can do. And actually, the latest independent evaluation findings, which were published last Friday, once again found the scheme had been supporting parental employment. There were a range of positive impacts—over half, 53 per cent, said it had given them more flexibility in the way they work. Nearly half, 46 per cent, said it had given them the potential to increase their earnings. Over a third, 36 per cent, felt the offer had improved their opportunities for in-work training, and nearly a third believed that they would be working fewer hours had the offer not been available to them. And actually, crucially, 9 per cent of the parents said they wouldn't be in work if it wasn't for accessing the offer, and 6 per cent indicated they would be working in a job with lower pay. So, I think, for those families, the offer is making a significant difference.

I'd also add, I think, the difference it's made has been to lower income families. Evaluation of the earnings of those people who access the offer shows that they're of medium to lower earnings, the majority, and so it's obviously been a great help to them financially. 

14:05

Diolch, Gweinidog. Ie, mae hynna’n ddiddorol achos mae'r comisiynydd plant newydd ddyfynnu ffigur i ni yn dweud yn y data oedd ganddyn nhw, bod 58 y cant o bobl oedd wedi ymateb yn dweud nad oedd yna ddim impact o gwbl wedi bod ar eu cyflogaeth, felly mae'n amlwg bod yna rhyw fath o discrepancy fanna rhwng canfyddiadau ffigurau'r Llywodraeth a'r hyn roedd y comisiynydd plant yn cyfeirio ato fe.

Os gallaf i droi nawr i Dechrau'n Deg, mae ymchwil gan Achub y Plant yn pwysleisio bod 44 y cant o blant mewn tlodi yn byw tu allan i ardaloedd Dechrau'n Deg, ac rydyn ni wedi cael tystiolaeth o'r sesiynau ymgysylltu rydyn ni wedi eu cynnal hefyd lle mae yna—. Dwi'n meddwl bod rhywun yn y Rhondda yn sôn ei bod hi yn byw ar un stryd a'i hamgylchiadau hi yn union yr un peth â rhywun oedd yn byw ar stryd gyferbyn. Roedd hi'n medru cael mynediad at ofal plant drwy Dechrau'n Deg, ei chymydog hi'n methu. Felly, ydych chi'n credu bod ffocws daearyddol y rhaglen yn darparu digon o ofal plant a chymorth ehangach i blant dwy flwydd oed mewn cartrefi sy'n profi tlodi? A oes gennych chi unrhyw newidiadau wedi'u cynllunio mewn perthynas â hyn, yn enwedig o feddwl nawr am y cytundeb cydweithredu gyda Phlaid Cymru?   

Thank you, Minister. That's interesting because the children's commissioner has just quoted us a figure saying that in the data that they had, 58 per cent of people who had responded said that there was no impact at all on their employment, so evidently there's a discrepancy there between the findings of the Government's figures and what the children's commissioner referred to. 

If I can turn now to Flying Start, research by Save the Children highlights that 44 per cent of children in poverty live outside Flying Start areas, and we've had evidence from the engagement sessions that we've held. I think somebody in the Rhondda mentioned the fact she lived in one street and her circumstances were exactly the same as someone on the street opposite, and she could have access to childcare through Flying Start, but her neighbour couldn't. So, do you think that the geographical focus of the programme provides sufficient childcare and wider support for two-year-olds in households experiencing poverty? Do you have any changes planned around this, particularly given the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru?   

Thank you again, Sioned, for that question. And just to say quickly in response to the previous question, the evaluation I was quoting was an independent evaluation. So, to go on to Flying Start, I think Flying Start is one of our greatest achievements, really, and I think it's really important to remember that it is—. There are four elements to it; it's not just the childcare, as you know. It's the parenting support, the speech and language support and the intensive health visiting. And it has been very successful. The evaluation of Flying Start has shown that it has brought up—. The children from the areas of deprivation have been able to reach an equal level with children from more prosperous areas. So, it is absolutely a great programme, and I'm very supportive it. 

And I absolutely agree with the comments that you've made that it does only reach a certain number of children in poverty, and it's really important to have as many children as possible to access Flying Start. So, in the programme for government, there's already a commitment to support the Flying Start programme, and the geographical nature does mean that it is concentrated in certain areas and it is also universally available in those areas, which I support very strongly because I think it's so important that the provision should be available on a universal basis, because you do get rid of stigma in that way. And yet, you reach the most deprived areas. So, I think it's actually developing in exactly the right way. 

Flying Start is able to have outreach now beyond the geographical areas, and that depends, really, on each local authority how that is developed. So, it does stretch beyond the geographical areas at the moment but, obviously, we do want to expand Flying Start. We're absolutely delighted that we've got the co-operation agreement but, obviously, we haven't had any of the detailed discussions about that. But, obviously, we have the commitment in the agreement, and I'm very hopeful that we'll be working away on Flying Start and we'll be able to improve the access for many more children in Wales.  

Sioned, before you move on to another subject, I just wanted to ask Julie Morgan if you could just explain something in your written evidence, which is that those who attend the Flying Start provision meet the expected outcomes in all areas of learning, but those with lower attendance do not. Are you not concerned that—? What are the numbers that are not making the right progress, because they obviously can't attend unless a parent brings them, or an adult brings them? 

Well, I think it's—. Those that attend fully get the most benefit, and so those that don't attend fully obviously aren't getting the most benefit, so every effort must be made to help and encourage. I think that's why I mentioned earlier on that there are other elements to Flying Start—the intensive support from the health visitor, parenting classes—and I think the success of Flying Start is having all those elements together. Obviously, that's an important point that I know we have picked up.

14:10

Okay. So, are you able to send us a breakdown of the numbers of two-year-olds who are attending full time, as opposed to those who are attending infrequently?

Yes, certainly. I don't know whether Claire or Nicola have got those figures to hand or whether we—. No, we'll send them to you.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Ie, yn pigo lan, mewn ffordd, ynglŷn â gwneud pob ymdrech i wneud yn siŵr bod pawb sydd â hawl ar gyfer y ddarpariaeth yma yn medru mynychu'r sesiynau yma, achos rhywbeth arall dŷn ni wedi clywed lot amdano fe yw bod, ddim diffyg gwybodaeth, ond bod y wybodaeth yn anodd i bobl ddeall ac i gyrchu. Felly, yn eich barn chi, pa mor effeithiol ydych chi'n meddwl yw Llywodraeth Cymru a gwasanaethau gwybodaeth i deuluoedd awdurdodau lleol wrth sicrhau bod rhieni'n ymwybodol o'u hawliau o ran gofal plant? Mae'n ymddangos, o peth o'r dystiolaeth lafar ac ysgrifenedig dŷn ni wedi derbyn, bod yna anhawster a'i fod e'n gymhleth, bod y siwrnai—. Wnaethom ni glywed rhywun o rai o'r darparwyr yn dweud y dylai fe fod yn rhyw fath o un siwrnai, a bod hynny'n eithaf eglur pan rŷch chi'n cael plentyn, eich bod chi'n gwybod beth fydd pob cam yn hytrach na gorfod canfod y wybodaeth yna ar bob cam o'r daith. Felly, eisiau clywed eich meddyliau chi ynglŷn â hynny.

Thank you, Chair. I want to pick up on making every effort to ensure that everyone who is entitled to this provision can attend those sessions, because another thing we've heard about is not a lack of information, but that the information is difficult for people to understand and to get access to. So, in your opinion, how effective do you think the Welsh Government and local authority family information services are in ensuring that parents are aware of their childcare entitlements? It appears from some of the oral and written evidence that we've received, that there is difficulty and that it is complex, and that the journey—. We heard somebody from one of the providers saying that it should be a single journey and that that's clear when you have a child, that you know exactly what each step will be, rather than trying to find that information at every step of that journey. So, I'd like to hear your thoughts on that.

Yes. Diolch. The landscape is complicated and I absolutely accept that, and also I think it's important to know that parents have different needs, and different needs for different times of their life, so it's important that we're able to have one point where they can find that information. Now, the family information services are the key local point, and I think it's very important that we do have a local point in order to access those services, because obviously local knowledge is very important, and they have an understanding of the provision that is in their area, so that is very important. And certainly, the family information services played an absolutely key role during the initial stages of the pandemic, supporting families to find and to access childcare at a point when many settings had temporarily closed. So, they certainly were invaluable at that point, and they also supported the delivery of the coronavirus childcare assistance scheme, when many families were approaching them about accessing formal childcare for the first time, which happened when that scheme was introduced, and that absolute local knowledge was there. And they do provide free, impartial support, guidance and advice on a range of family issues, which include childcare, the costs, family programme, finance, all those sorts of issues. So, I think it is a good service, but obviously it needs to be advertised as widely as it possibly can. I mean, we did make every effort during the pandemic to highlight the fact that we were supporting childcare for vulnerable children and for key workers, and we publicised widely the coronavirus childcare assistance scheme, directing to the family information services. But inevitably, some families will not have heard of this, so I think it is behoven on us to publicise it as much as we possibly can.

Diolch, ie, ac yn sôn am ddatgymhlethu'r iaith a gwneud yn siŵr bod—. Dŷn ni wedi clywed lot yn y sesiynau dros yr wythnosau diwethaf ond hefyd y bore yma ynglŷn â'r diffyg darpariaeth ar gyfer pobl o leiafrifoedd ethnig a diwylliannol, felly efallai bod angen mwy o ffocws hefyd ynglŷn ag argaeledd y wybodaeth yna yn y priod ieithoedd.

Jest yn symud ymlaen nawr i bwnc ychydig yn wahanol, ym mis Awst y llynedd, fe wnaeth Llywodraeth Cymru ddarparu £4 miliwn o gyllid i ddarparwyr gofal plant ar gyfer grantiau i dalu am gostau rhent a chyfleustodau a chyflogau a oedd heb eu diwallu, ac ym mis Medi, wedyn, eleni, yn darparu £3.5 miliwn i awdurdodau lleol i gynorthwyo gydag effeithiau tymor byr y pandemig. Eisiau gwybod ydw i pa asesiad rydych chi wedi'i wneud o effeithiolrwydd y gwariant hwn. Mi oedd yna ychydig o bryderon wedi cael eu codi gan TUC Cymru yn hyn o beth, bod y gwariant wedi bod yn anghyson ac efallai ddim mor effeithiol ag y dylai fe fod wedi bod.

Thank you, yes, and in terms of making the language less complicated—. We've heard a lot in the sessions over recent weeks, but also this morning, about the lack of provision for people from ethnic minorities and so maybe we need more of a focus on the availability of information in those languages.

Moving on now to a slightly different subject, in August last year, the Welsh Government provided £4 million in funding to childcare providers for grants to cover the cost of rent and utilities and unmet wages. And in September this year, it provided £3.5 million to local authorities to assist with the short-term impacts of the pandemic. I'd like to know what assessment you have made of the effectiveness of this spending. There were some concerns raised by Wales TUC that this expenditure had been inconsistent and perhaps not as effective as it should have been.

14:15

Thank you. As you say, we launched the £4 million childcare provider grant in the summer of 2020 in response to calls for direct financial help from the sector. Some of the settings were able to access direct financial support from the wider Welsh Government and the UK Government, including furlough, but there were a number that were telling us at the time that they were ineligible for that and that they were struggling, and the childcare provider grant was part of filling that gap for those who weren't able to access the wider ones. And, in fact, it's proved not to have had as much take-up as we would've wished, and we did feel that—. I mean, we did discuss it with one of the committees, actually, of the Senedd at the time, and I can remember very well the discussions when concerns were expressed about whether it was devised in the right way to reach people. And in fact, of the estimated 1,000 settings that were eligible for the childcare provider grant, successful applications were received from only 162 settings, with a total spend of £0.5 million and an average of £3,000 per setting. And that was obviously disappointing; we were very disappointed, as we would've liked more settings to have taken up the support. Those who had it thought it was useful, but that was a very disappointing outcome.

We haven't undertaken a formal independent evaluation of the grant, but we have collected feedback from local authorities who were administrating it, and from the umbrella bodies, and we've also got some feedback directly from the settings. So, comments included the complexity of the grant process and the requirement to evidence losses, which some settings found it difficult to do. Settings were also put off by the risk of having to repay if they had to close. Other settings were ineligible due to an unwillingness to become incorporated, because they had to become incorporated in order to access the grant, or because they temporarily had to de-register, because this was aimed at registered providers.

So, it didn't work out in the way that we wanted it to, and as I say, we haven't got an independent evaluation, but we are pretty sure that those are the reasons—too complicated, too difficult and too many barriers, basically, to accessing it. So, in response to that, we looked again at how best to support the sector, and over the last financial year, we directed £5.3 million in funding to the sector via the children and communities grant administered by local authorities, and this enables local authorities to assess the situation on the ground and provide small-scale sustainability grants according to the need in the local areas. So, through this mechanism, we have been able to provide funding to cover losses experienced by business as a result of reduced demand. Again, we haven't had formal evaluation of that funding, but feedback does suggest that it was of great benefit, and that's why we decided to direct a further £3.5 million in support via the children and communities grant in this financial year.

So, in summary, the childcare provider grants weren't as successful as we wanted, so we redirected money to the local authorities that gave small sustainable grants, which appeared to be more successful.

Diolch yn fawr. Diolch, Gadeirydd.

Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you. Deputy Minister, I just want to welcome the agreement between Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour to expand childcare to two-year-olds, which has been announced since we started this inquiry, but clearly I think that's welcomed by all Members. Could you just provide the committee with whatever detail you're able to to flesh out those two-liners, obviously with a particular focus on strengthening Welsh-medium childcare? How many weeks of the year are two-year-olds going to be getting childcare? Could you just say anything about any eligibility criteria, or will it be all two-year-olds?

14:20

Well, I'm awfully sorry, I'm not really in a position to say a lot more, because I don't want to say what we're going to do before we've had the discussions with my Plaid opposite number. So, I wouldn't like to shoot the gun, so to speak—jump the gun—and talk about it now without having any further discussion with our partners in the co-operation agreement. But we do welcome it, obviously, as you say, very strongly, and we are very, very pleased that we have together agreed on this aim, and we will be working very hard at it. But also we will be working in conjunction with the childcare sector, because we can promise as much as we like in terms of places, but we've got to have the staff there and we've got to have the settings. So, there's going to be a lot of work in order to increase the facilities available to two-year-olds, but I'm looking forward to starting as soon as we can. 

Very good. I understand we can only deliver what we can deliver, but I just want to put to you the scenario raised by Rachel Thomas, the head of policy in the office of the children's commissioner, earlier this afternoon, when she says that if we're going to give childcare places to two-year-olds, how would you see that child's development once they reach the age of three? Presumably they wouldn't be chucked out of the nursery provision just because the parents of the now three-year-old were not in work.

Well, obviously, these are all very important issues that we will have to look at, and also the link between the two-year-old's provision and the three-year-old's provision is obviously something that has got to be considered. So, I think you've highlighted one of the issues that we'll have to look at. 

Okay. I think one of the big issues that has come up in our earlier scrutiny sessions has been the lack of co-operation from some schools—that they're simply not allowing childcare providers to operate in schools, for example in the school holidays, or not giving them keys to the school premises. I appreciate that some schools have very limited footprints, because there are buildings all around them—they can't expand. But most schools have quite generous provision of land and buildings, and under what circumstances are we not developing that resource, which is a public resource, in those public services?

That is a key issue, and certainly I think it's important to remember that we have been in a pandemic, and there have been issues with concerns that schools have about sharing premises when a totally different group of children may come into the premises. We understand the concerns that there have been about that, but obviously we're doing all we can to encourage those schools to open up and allow others onto the premises. I think that situation has improved, but I know that there have been difficulties in relation to the out-of-school provision that is on the same site as schools. That's something I have discussed with the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, about encouraging headteachers to feel that they are able to open up existing after-school clubs that are on the premises. And it's obviously a huge advantage of having childcare provision on the premises of schools, if only for the carbon footprint benefits of that. We have invested a lot of money in capital funding—£80 million of capital funding in childcare since 2018—and over half of that was invested in Welsh-medium settings and about £24.8 million invested in Flying Start provision over the same period. But the funding for childcare and Flying Start is managed alongside the wider twenty-first century schools investment programme, which does support investment in provision on school sites.

And I do think that single-site provision is important, but it is very important that we continue our work on community-focused schools, because we want to tackle this issue of the use of schools outside the school day. And it's not just an issue for childcare, because, as far as I can see, it's essential that we have community-focused schools and all the community benefit from the schools, and they are at the heart of the community. So, those are important issues about how we're going to encourage the schools to be more, and continue to be, accessible to the childcare provision.

14:25

I appreciate that the particulars of containing COVID require particular public health provisions, but, leaving that to one side at the moment, how are we going to expand childcare at the rate required unless we move from simply encouraging schools to mandating schools to deliver community-focused provision?  

I think schools will benefit from a much greater deal of encouragement to open up. Obviously, that's something that the education Minister is very keen to develop—to have more community-focused schools—and I just think we have to put a great focus on it. It is essential for childcare that we do have the schools opening up, because of the link between childcare and the schools, and the importance for parents. So, that's why a lot of our developments and the capital funding we've been putting in have been on school sites, and we have to do everything we can to make sure it's successful. 

One of the issues that has been raised is that if you haven't got the childcare on the same site as the wraparound provision, you're moving children around from pillar to post, and particularly for children with additional learning needs. At what point do you think you're going to get a little bit more insistent with primary schools that they must see the needs of the whole child from age two? 

At the moment, we're working with them and we're encouraging them, and we hope that the impetus that we're going to put into the childcare offer, and the impetus we're going to put into Flying Start will bring with it an impetus across the whole of the community to recognise the huge value of childcare, the huge value for children and for parents, and the best impetus will make us move towards a greater openness, which I know we all support.  

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Minister. Since we are talking about the co-operation agreement with Plaid, which commits to expanding free childcare to all two-year-olds, with a particular focus on providing and strengthening Welsh-medium childcare, can the Minister confirm how much money is to be allocated to delivering this, including the cost of training of the additional staff required? And also, will the Minister commit to presenting a plan to this committee to demonstrate how this will be distributed, and how the concern about the current provision under examination by this committee will be addressed? Thank you. 

14:30

Thank you. Basically, Altaf, what you wanted to know was how much it was going to cost to extend the childcare. Well, for the childcare offer, you will know that we have committed to extend it—in the programme for government, this is—to education and training. So, that's to parents who are in education and training, which it doesn't apply to at the moment. I think we've estimated that that will cost possibly up to £10 million extra per year. In terms of the Flying Start increase, we don't have any figures for that yet, because that's part of the co-operation agreement, and as I said, we can't go into that until I've had more discussions with our partners.

Can I just come back to something that isn't in the Plaid-Labour agreement? The programme for government commits to fund childcare for three and four-year-olds whose parents are in education and training as well as those in work, and I wondered if you could give us an idea of how that's going to be implemented, because clearly it involves expanding the workforce.

How we're actually going to do it at the moment we are discussing. We did do a report to look at where people in education and training were, at the moment, getting childcare, if they were able to access childcare, and there are quite a few places where they can access childcare support already. What we are doing is mapping where the gaps are, and where the gaps are, we will be then using the childcare offer to give them the opportunity of having the free childcare that we offer to three and four-year-olds. At the moment, there are different ways of accessing childcare, not generally under my portfolio, but the European social fund has supported some childcare and paying for childcare. There is quite a bit of help already there and we certainly don't want to duplicate. So, what we're trying to do is to analyse where the gaps are and then bringing in the help in those gaps. As I said to Altaf Hussain, that, we estimate, will cost about £10 million in addition, and so that will mean that we will have to provide more places and the workforce will have to expand.

Okay. We've got a reasonably good idea of where the gaps are, because a lot of people have done an analysis of this, and it's mainly in the areas of deprivation where, obviously, people need to improve their skills in order to get a better job and then be able to afford more childcare. So, is the Government actually actively pursuing how they're going to deliver on that?

Oh, yes. We're working extremely hard on this. Perhaps I can bring Nicola in, because Nicola is working on this at the moment. I don't know whether, Nicola, you'd like to come in on this, or Claire—what you're doing about this at the moment.

Can I just check with the Chair? What you're asking specifically is what we're doing to expand childcare support for parents in education and training, or to expand childcare provision more generally?

The Deputy Minister said the fine detail of the agreement with Plaid Cymru hasn't been worked out yet, so I'm pursuing the matter of what's already in the programme for government on which the Welsh Government was elected. How are you pursuing that? I appreciate we don't want to duplicate effort, but those who are already in education and getting childcare at the college are going to be supplemented by a whole host of other people who suddenly think, 'There is an opportunity for me to increase my skills.'

As the Deputy Minister said, there was a review published earlier in the year that looked at the range of programmes that are already in this space and the gaps that we have. As you said, some of those are quite well-known gaps that have been around for a little while. We've been confirming and drawing those out a bit more. We've also been looking at the wide range of programmes that we've got in place across Welsh Government that sit in this space.

It's not just support available through the further and higher education institutions. Some of our employability programmes, particularly programmes like PaCE and Communities for Work, also include an element of support for childcare costs. There's also support available through universal credit and through other schemes funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, which we're obviously very keen to take into account, because I think we're very clear that we don't want to be duplicating schemes that the UK Government is offering if that means that we then find that we've lost out on our own money, if you like; we want to fill in the gaps and make the best of the Welsh money that we can do in that context.

So, we've been looking at all of that and drawing all of that together. We're also acutely aware that we don't want to be in a position whereby in providing additional support through programmes like the childcare offer, we inadvertently find ourselves in a position where wider elements of universal credit funding are then taken away, because it's counted as income in some way that can counteract against other support mechanisms that are available.

So, we've been doing all of that work; a lot of that mapping through, looking at where it would be. Some of this is about geographically where it might be, and you're right in terms of provision of childcare; traditionally, it tends to be in areas of higher demand, so those tend to be areas with high levels of employment or along commuter routes where you have a built-in market. We've also been looking at particular sectors where we need to grow the workforce, and where we maybe think we need to target more at parents to come back into education and training to boost the workforce in those areas by gaining relevant skills. A lot of that mapping work is still going on to make sure that we get it right.

I think, obviously, we're still awaiting the draft budget and then the final budget before any particular confirmation can be made as to what the scheme might look like and what timescale we'll be looking to deliver over, but I can assure you that there's a huge amount of work going on in the background, mapping data and evidence on skills, on deprivation levels, on where training and education providers are located and on the different programmes that parents can access to make sure that what we do provide fits the gap in the way that's needed.

14:35

At what point might you be able to give us a note on what childcare is funded by the UK Government? Because I have to say, that was news to me.

There's obviously the tax-free childcare scheme, which has been around for a little while in terms of support, although that is aimed more at parents who are in work. Then, DWP do provide some support for parents who are on particular training courses or accessing particular support to get them back into work—they will pay for childcare for people going to job interviews, for example, or coaching sessions ahead of that. And they're a joint beneficiary for Parents, Childcare and Employment, which is the ESF-funded programme that I mentioned earlier, so there is interaction there as well. Some of this was drawn out in the independent report I mentioned that was published in March and we'll make sure that you get sent a copy of that as well.

Okay. Thank you very much. Finally, Deputy Minister, I just wondered if you agree that a childcare system based on progressive universalism is eventually going to lead to a universal system of childcare for all.

Well, I think we would love to have a universal childcare system for all, and it would be absolutely great if we could reach that, but we're certainly quite a long way away from that at the moment. As we've said several times, we're in discussion about the direction of travel—well, we know what the direction of travel is towards, but how we're actually going to move forward is part of the partnership co-operation discussion that we'll be having.

Okay. Thank you very much. Could I now ask Sarah Murphy to come in with her questions?

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Minister. I wanted to start by asking a question about the Wales TUC, who had participants take part in focus groups run by the committee. They expressed concern about the lack of staff from ethnic minorities within the childcare workforce. How would the Welsh Government respond to this, and what consideration has it given to interventions to help recruit more childcare staff from ethnic minorities, please?

We have launched a race equality action plan, as you know, as a Government, and this is the first time, really, that such an ambitious programme has been launched. It's also being consulted upon at the moment. The underrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in all areas of the workforce has been an absolutely consistent theme. It's absolutely true in the childcare workforce, and as part of the race equality action plan, we want to change that.

We have taken some actions. We've provided funding to the CWLWM childcare consortium to support our vision of an anti-racist Wales. We have given them specific funding to do that. We've also agreed plans with CWLWM to promote Welsh-medium childcare in ethnic minority communities and to develop resources related to anti-racist principles, including webinars and training to support childcare practitioners. CWLWM funding also supports the commissioning of Nodau Natur/Nature Notes, an innovative nursery rhymes project in six languages for use in childcare settings to raise awareness of the diversity of Welsh and Welsh heritage, and celebrating communities and cultures that have settled in Wales.

I think this is a very wide issue. We can say we want Social Care Wales, which obviously has a lot of responsibility with regard to the social care workforce, to make efforts to reach out to people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, and I think that they do do that through some of their advertising and promotions, which we pay them to do, but it really reflects what are the views of the whole of society. That's why the race equality action plan that we're taking forward as a Government is so important to tackle the racism that we do know exists in Wales, and that's why we want to have anti-racist policies. It's very important, I think, that this is highlighted in the childcare workforce.

14:40

Thank you, Minister. A number of witnesses have highlighted a lack of provision for children with disabilities and complex needs. Coram Family and Childcare found that only 19 per cent of Welsh local authorities have sufficient childcare for children with disabilities across their area. What action will the Welsh Government take to improve this?

Thank you. Again, children with complex needs and with disabilities—it's absolutely crucial that they get the same opportunities as other children do, and we've got to make it as easy as possible for them to access the provision that we fund. We make funding of about £1.5 million per year available to local authorities through the childcare offer for Wales additional support grant, and this funding helps ensure that children with additional needs who are eligible for the offer are able to access the childcare element in the same way as other eligible children.

It can be invested in a whole variety of ways—for example, one-to-one support; the money can be used for that. It can also be used to support training needs or provision of equipment. Our capital investment programme has provided small grants of up to £10,000 to support adaptations to premises, including where these are needed to assist with issues around accessibility and also the provision of more complex support. So, we do provide that to local authorities to help children with disabilities access the facilities.

We've provided funding to the CWLWM childcare consortium for an additional learning needs and Welsh language research programme to identify specific challenges in the Welsh-medium sector. CWLWM funding also supports the development of guidance and training and awareness-raising materials for the early years sector. More information will actually be made available when the local authorities have their childcare sufficiency assessments, which will be published now next year, and those sufficiency assessments will show where all the needs are. So, we do make specific provision for children who have got complex needs, and I think it's very important that that is taken up.

Thank you very much, Chair. Does the Minister accept that 81 per cent of local authority provision is inadequate for disabled children? If so, what action will the Welsh Government take to improve this?

I don't know, the 81 per cent figure, where that actually came from. I don't know whether that was mentioned at the beginning of the questions, where the 81 per cent comes from. So, I'm not able to verify it or not. But I would entirely accept that from the contact that I have with families with disabled children, and through the general knowledge of what happens, that there's a lot more to do. We absolutely accept that, Altaf, that the facilities are not spot on for all children with complex needs and who are disabled. 

14:45

I didn't. Sorry, I might have indicated I did, but I genuinely didn't—.

Sorry, I beg your pardon. I do apologise. I put you on the spot; I thought then you were raising your hand. 

That's okay. I'm assuming, if it came from one of the previous studies, like maybe the Coram trust, which was referred to, I can't really comment on the data, the 81 per cent. But, I think, the Deputy Minister is correct, there is more to do, and I think that the previous round of childcare sufficiency assessments suggested there was more to do as well. So, we look forward to the next round of them to see what they say. 

Thank you. I think the 81 per cent is probably just inverting the 19 per cent, where it says 19 per cent of local authorities have sufficient—. However, having been a researcher myself, it doesn't mean necessarily that 81 per cent doesn't; it just means that there's data to support that 19 per cent do. That's just my guess on where that 81 per cent came from. 

My last question is just about the lack of childcare available for parents who work atypical hours. And we did hear a lot on this because I think it was obvious that this is particularly difficult, to provide that childcare, especially if people are working nights and things like this. There's not a lot for that at the moment. As part of this part of the inquiry as well, we were very fortunate to hear evidence from a representative in Sweden talking about the childcare provision that they have there. And they said that this is an issue that they have as well, trying to provide that wraparound care for people who work atypical hours. 

So, we were just wondering, what approaches are you considering to address this issue here in Wales, and are you looking at international examples, such as nattis, which is what it's called, the childcare available in some parts of Sweden?

Thank you. I've heard of—. 'Nattis' it's called, isn't it, I think? I've heard of that provision, and there's obviously quite a lot of it, from what I've heard. And it obviously answers a need. So, we have looked at international provision when we're thinking about how we're going to expand. But it is a challenge to provide this sort of provision because we have to be sure that the level of demand would be sufficient to make it viable. And, in practice, it may be that the numbers of parents who need formal childcare overnight may not be high, but we know that a lot of parents do need childcare in the evenings, and they do need it over the weekend as well, which fits into the atypical childcare provision.

And there are some childcare settings in Wales that do offer late evenings, and some offer weekend care, which shows there is a willingness within the market to meet the need. But on overnight care, the options are more limited, and obviously there's a lot of things to consider if you're providing overnight care—safe sleep spaces and meeting the safeguarding concerns and all those sorts of issues. And the local authorities will be considering the availability of childcare to support parents working atypical hours in the childcare sufficiency assessments. So, we'll get a lot more information next year about how much of a demand there is for this. And, in their action plans, the local authorities will have to address any gaps in provision and report on the progress every year. So, if the sufficiency plans do show that there is a significant need, that is something that the local authorities will need to address. 

And I think it's worth saying that the funding that's available under the childcare offer could be used for atypical childcare. It doesn't—. We've never said that cannot be used for evenings, weekends, nights. But obviously, it has to be used in a registered setting. So, it will be interesting to see what the childcare sufficiency assessments come out with next year, and see if there is a demand for this.

14:50

Thank you. We need to move on; we've only got 10 minutes left. So, short questions and short answers, please. Altaf. You're on mute. No, you're not any longer.

Okay. Your written evidence states that £9.2 million has been invested to train and upskill childcare workers through the Progress for Success scheme, which is funded by structural funds and will end in 2023. What plans are you making to follow up this scheme, and how might the plans to expand childcare provision impact upon the amount of funding that a successor scheme might require? Thank you.

Thank you. Well, Progress for Success continues to be a key source of support for practitioners who are looking to upskill their childcare or their play qualifications. Funding under Progress for Success will come to an end in March 2023, and we await confirmation as to whether the ESF funding will be replaced by UK Government funding. As we all know, we were told that we would not receive any less funding as a result of us not being eligible for ESF funding any longer. So, we await to see, because we think it is very important that this type of programme continues. As part of our longer term early childhood education and care planning, we'll develop a plan for the workforce, which will detail the support and investment required. And while some of that will be discussed in relation to increasing the provision for two-year-olds, it will also be part of the longer term approach.

Right. Thank you very much. My last question is: while expanding the childcare provision, the Scottish Government has increased training opportunities and taken measures to secure payment of the real living wage. What plans does the Welsh Government have for taking forward fair work within the sector?

Obviously, pay is very important, and we are exploring the real living wage for the social care workforce, and that is something that is under discussion at the moment. I know the Scottish Government is further ahead with those sorts of discussions than we are, but we're working closely with the Scottish Government, to learn from their examples.

Thanks, Chair. Thanks for joining us, Minister. Just two quick questions. First of all, the £4.50 hourly rate for the new childcare offer; what consideration have you given, or are you giving, to increasing it to £5? We've heard providers citing the reimbursement as an important factor in delivery of support. And then, secondly, is there to be an independent review of child minding? Thank you.

Thank you very much, Ken, for those questions. Yes, we are in the process of reviewing the hourly rate for childcare, paid through the childcare offer for Wales. And we expect to announce that in the new year, so that's fairly soon, so we'll hear about that. And the second question was the—.

Into child minders, yes. Yes, we will be having an independent review of child minders, because the number of child minders has dropped. It was dropping before the pandemic, and child minders are such a hugely valuable part of the childcare landscape that we think it's very important to find out what's behind this. So, we will be having a review, starting next year.

Just really quickly, just to end. One of the themes that we've been hearing throughout certainly today and other days is the issue around equality of access to childcare. I'm just wondering what the Welsh Government might be considering, in terms of an overall review of equality issues around accessing childcare. This may fit in with your thoughts and discussions around the agreement with Plaid Cymru. So, we’ve heard about equality of opportunity for black and minority ethnic parents—and I’ve certainly met with a few, and heard about the challenges that they face; Welsh-speaking families; particular geographical areas; and ages, et cetera. So, it’s just flagging up something, and I just wondered if the Welsh Government might be considering really taking a step back and looking at that holistically. Thank you.

14:55

Thank you. The development of Welsh-medium childcare provision is mentioned in the agreement with Plaid Cymru. The expansion of two-year-olds is especially concentrated on making sure that there is more Welsh language provision. So, we’re definitely looking at that and very committed to that.

The race equality stuff—I think one of the things we’ve had back to us through the consultation about the race equality strategy is that there isn’t enough there about what black, Asian and minority ethnic women want. One of those issues was childcare and the issue of childcare delivered by black and minority ethnic people for children. So, we are going to have that as one of the threads that we’re going to look at in particular. So, I think, moving on, there will be an expansion of childcare. We want to make sure, I think as you say, Jane, that it is an expansion that is holistic in terms of equality and equal opportunities. We know how important childcare is, and it determines, often, life chances for children, so that’s why the Government wants to invest so much into childcare.  

Okay. There are just a couple of other things I just wanted to pick up. One is: I know that the children's commissioner was extremely unhappy that there wasn't a due regard review given to children’s rights when looking at childcare, and I wondered, as you’re reviewing how the Government’s going to deliver and expand childcare, whether you’re going to be having an appropriate regard to children’s rights in this context.

Well, I think we can certainly take that into account. We are, obviously, going to be looking at how we’re going to move forward, generally, and we can certainly consider that.  

Okay. Thank you. 

You referred to the race equality action plan in your earlier remarks and that that was an important part of the landscape of improving the diversity of the workforce, but an earlier witness, Shavanah Taj from the Wales TUC, was very concerned that the race equality action plan was silent on childcare. So, I just wondered if you could, perhaps, send us a note on how you think that lack of is going to be addressed, and perhaps you have plans to revise the race equality action plan.

Yes. As a result of the consultation, this has been raised, and it will now be one of the parts of the strategy that we’ll be pursuing.

Very good. Okay. Altaf, you just wanted to have the final word. Come in.

Just a question about education, and knowing your rights. Are we going to educate our children about their rights in schools? Thank you.

Yes. As you know, we’re totally committed to children’s rights. The Welsh Government has been committed to children’s rights since devolution began, and I’ll be shortly speaking to the Senedd about our latest plan on children’s rights. But it’s really important that children know what their rights are, and we already have schools that specialise in being children’s rights schools, and it’s fundamental.

Okay. And lastly, from me, the interim chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission for Wales was very keen to ensure that the Welsh Government did a disparity audit so that we know exactly what the composition of the workforce is—how diverse or white is it? Because we simply don't have enough information on this, and that, obviously, needs to inform whatever action you're going to take to rectify that. So, have you got any plans to do a much more in-depth profile of the existing workforce?

15:00

I can see that Claire's got her hand up, so she wants to come in. Claire.

One of the other programme for government commitments is to establish a race disparity unit, a disability disparity unit and an equality data unit, and the purpose of having those analytical resources is to enable us to undertake just that type of assessment. There'll be a question, I guess, of in which order to undertake reviews, but I think taking account of areas that might be a priority for committee would be one of the things that could inform the work programmes of those units, and not just looking at what is the position, but also then looking at the effectiveness of different strategies to make improvements in terms of diversity. So, I think those will be really important developments through next year of having that significantly increased capability to support our equality work.

Okay. Well, just to give you a hint, I think we've heard quite a lot of evidence that people don't think the workforce is as culturally appropriate as it needs to be, and that that puts some parents off from wanting to go anywhere near it. So, clearly, it's something that needs to be a priority to inform the way you're going to expand the workforce and make it more welcoming to everybody. 

Very good. Thank you very much. I'm afraid we've run out of time, and I know you've got another important meeting. So, obviously, we're going to send you a transcript of your evidence, and you'll, obviously, need to correct it where you've been misheard. But I want to thank you very much indeed for coming along today, because I appreciate that you've got all sorts of issues to deal with, particularly taking forward the latest childcare expansion plan. So, thank you very much indeed and we'll speak again soon.

Can we now move back into private session? Oh no, sorry, I beg your pardon.

6. Papurau i'w nodi
6. Papers to note

We've got some papers to note, and I just wondered if the committee is happy to note the three papers, or if there's anything they want to highlight in the meantime, or if we can just agree to note them.

I can't see any dissension on that, so we'll note them and then move back into private session, please. If you could let us know once the broadcast has ended.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:03.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:03.