MINISTERS have been told to “stop sidelining” disadvantaged families after Scottish Government data revealed the number of two-year-olds receiving funded childcare has dropped in the last six months.

The Scottish Liberal Democracts have called for more action after a progress report, published by the Scottish Government, shows the number of two-year-olds reported to be receiving funded early learning and childcare places in August 2021 was 5,954 – a fall from the 6,204 places reported in April.

The Scottish Government estimates that around 14,500 two-year-olds are eligible for this entitlement.

Mr Rennie said: “The SNP’s childcare offer was supposed to be revolutionary for children and families, but somehow the number of two year olds in funded childcare is actually going down.

“I campaigned hard to convince ministers to extend the offer to two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“If ministers could just get this offer out the door, it could make all the difference to children’s life chances and attainment.” He added: “The Scottish Government need to stop sidelining this offer.

“High quality childcare helps families get the best start in life, and helps children thrive. Similar offers elsewhere in the UK have uptake that’s twice as high, but children in Scotland are being let down.

“This Challenge Poverty week, ministers should be aiming for better.”

Over the space of a year, the number of eligible two-year-old accessing the funded places has increased by 26 per cent from 4,711 in August 2020.

The progress report shows that families of more than 79,000 childen are saving almost £5,0000 per child each year after the expansion of the SNP’s flagship early learning and childcare policy.

Since August, all three and four-year-olds and two-year-olds who need it most have been eligible for 1,140 hours of funded ELC.

Latest figures show that 90,890 children were accessing free early learning and childcare at the end of August 2021.

Of those, 97% (88,122) of children were accessing more than 600 hours and 87% (79,262) were accessing the full 1,140 hours offer.

All eligible families who applied were offered 1,140 hours.

Children’s Minister Clare Haughey said: “This week marks Challenge Poverty Week, and we know that childcare costs can place a real burden on families, so it is encouraging to see that thousands of families across the country are benefiting from our transformational expanded ELC offer.

“As well as saving families a significant amount of money, the 1,140 offer supports parents’ ability to work, train or study. We also know that high-quality early learning and childcare helps to give children the best start in life, enriching their early years and giving them the confidence and skills they need to prepare them for school.”

Cosla children and young people’s spokesperson, Stephen McCabe, added: “I warmly welcome the confirmation today that so many families are accessing the additional funded early learning and childcare hours, which bring so many benefits to children, their parents and carers.

“The delivery of the expansion against the very challenging backdrop of the pandemic is a real testament to the hard work of councils and their partners.”