Childminder numbers in England plummet
There has been a significant fall in the number of registered childminders in England, figures from Ofsted show.
New data shows there are now nearly 16,000 fewer registered childminders than around six years ago.
Overall, there were 41,700 registered with the watchdog, Ofsted, at the end of March - down by 27% (15,700) since the end of August 2012.
Campaigners say the situation is "simply unacceptable" and are calling for the government to take action.
The figures also show that there has been a drop of 600 since the end of last year alone.
Ofsted statisticians said that between December 2017 and March, 1,300 childminders left the sector, while 800 joined.
The childminders who left during this period had been registered for around nine years on average.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said: "It is incredibly concerning to see that the number of childminders has continued to decline.
"To lose 27% of a workforce over less than six years is simply unacceptable, and it beggars belief that the government has still not seen fit to do anything to tackle this ongoing trend.
"Childminders offer parents a vital source of quality, flexible care and education and the services they provide are absolutely crucial to the sector as a whole, especially at a time when the government is trying to expand the childcare offer in this country.
"As such, we urge the government to finally take some action on this issue - and addressing concerns over excessive paperwork, substantially increasing hourly funding rates and, crucially, removing unfair rules preventing childminders from claiming funding for related children would be a good start.
"As these statistics have made clear, simply ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away."
However, it was good news that 94% of all early years providers - including childminders and nurseries - were rated as good or outstanding, he added.
How has the government responded?
Minister for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi said: "We want every child to have the best start in life. And it's clear from these figures that parents can be confident with the care and support on offer for their children.
"The quality of the childcare providers remains high, with more than nine out of 10 rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.
"We want to improve early years education and childcare for every child, regardless of their background.
"That's why we are spending more on childcare than any other government - around £6bn a year by 2020, including an additional £1bn a year to deliver our free childcare offers."