Scottish Household Survey: childcare topic report

This report presents data on the use of childcare by households with a child aged between two and five years old (not yet at school) using data from the 2019 Scottish Household Survey.


The Scottish Household Survey is an annual Scotland-wide survey covering a wide range of topics. Questions are asked of a random sample of people in private residences in a face-to-face interview. The SHS started in 1999 and questions relating to Early Learning and Childcare were first included in 2018. Results of the survey have been published in the form of annual reports between 1999 and 2018. The 2019 report takes a shortened format due to the effects of COVID-19 with this report providing additional information on the results of the Early Learning and Childcare section. However, the data presented here are from interviews conducted in 2019 and so the results have not been affected by COVID-19.

The Scottish Government's ambition is that every child in Scotland grows up loved, safe and respected so that they realise their full potential. Giving every child the best start in life is central to this commitment, and investment in Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) is one way in which the Scottish Government is working towards making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up.

The Scottish Government and local authorities committed to almost doubling the funded ELC entitlement from 600 to 1,140 hours per year[1] for all three and four year olds[2], and eligible two year olds[3]. Although delayed by the effects of COVID-19 on the childcare sector, the Scottish Government remains committed to providing this expansion. Families will be able to access their funded ELC entitlement through local authority settings as well as providers in the private and third sector, including childminders[4]. This expansion will extend the entitlement to the equivalent of 30 hours per week over a 38-week term.

The ELC expansion aims to deliver three benefits for children and families:

  • Children's development improves and the poverty-related attainment gap narrows
  • More parents will have the opportunity to be in work, training, or study
  • Increased family resilience through improved health and wellbeing of parents and children.

The expansion of funded ELC is underpinned by four guiding principles:

  • Quality -“ the expansion will ensure a high quality ELC experience for all children
  • Flexibility -“ the expansion will support more parents and carers into work, training, or study, through a greater choice of provider and patterns of provision
  • Accessibility -“ the expansion will ensure that ELC provision is sufficient and is as conveniently geographically located as possible, particularly in areas of higher deprivation and in rural communities
  • Affordability -“ the expansion will increase access to affordable ELC which will help to reduce barriers to participating in the labour market.

Local authorities are responsible for the implementation and delivery of funded ELC to their local communities. They have flexibility to determine the most appropriate way to phase in the expanded entitlement in their local area as they build capacity. This means that many children have already started receiving between 600 and 1,140 hours of funded ELC.

The Scottish Government collects a wide range of data on ELC. The ELC Census monitors the provision of funded ELC, collecting data on the number of centres, staff and registrations. The Scottish Study of ELC (SSELC) will assess the impact of the ELC expansion on child, parent, and family outcomes[5]. The Scottish Household Survey (SHS) is another source of evidence on experiences of households accessing childcare that can be used to understand the use and impact of ELC in Scotland.

Within the context of the ELC expansion, questions on ELC, and childcare more broadly, were included in the SHS for the first time in 2018[6]. The first section of this report outlines the variations in the type of childcare (both formal and informal) and number of hours used. The next sections look at funded ELC in particular, outlining households' use and views of funded ELC. The final section details costs of and views on the affordability of childcare.

The data presented in this report focuses on households with a child aged between two and five years old (who has not yet started school). If a household had more than one child that fits these criteria, a child was chosen at random within this age range. All questions were then answered in response to the childcare this child received. Some questions on childcare were asked of a further group of households with a child aged 11 and under but analysis on this data is not included in this chapter[7]. All comparisons or differences reported within the text of this report are statistically significant[8].



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