Councils 'failing' over sufficient childcare, says Daycare Trust
More than two-thirds of English and Welsh councils are failing to make sure sufficient childcare is provided for working parents, a charity has said.
Just one in five met legal obligations to ensure adequate provision for under-twos, the Daycare Trust said.
Councils must ensure accessible, affordable care "delivered flexibly at a range of high-quality settings", including schools and nurseries.
Ministers say reforms will lead to better and cheaper childcare.
The Daycare Trust, which recently merged with the Family and Parenting Institute charity, also said one in three local authorities were failing to make sure adequate childcare was provided for school-aged children.
And it said just one in seven ensured sufficient childcare for children with disabilities - a ratio the charity said had remained the same for seven years.
Full figures and methodology for its study will be published on Wednesday.
Under the Childcare Act 2006, a number of different factors - including the quality and capacity of local childcare providers, the local labour market and the council's own resources - are taken into account when assessing whether "sufficient childcare" is being provided in a local authority area.
The Daycare Trust's chief executive, Anand Shukla, said councils were "failing families by presiding over a continuing shortage of high quality, affordable childcare" but said that was "no doubt linked to the tight financial squeeze they find themselves in".
He added: "At a time when one in five children lives in poverty, the failure to provide this essential service for parents who want to provide for their families is a national scandal."
Its director of research, Peter Grigg, told BBC Radio 5 live he found it "concerning that, after six or seven years of having the statutory duty, we're still in this position".
He said the charity also thought councils had a responsibility "to fill those gaps in provision where they see them".
But the Local Government Association's (LGA) David Simmonds said councils did not have any responsibility to actually provide childcare.
"Our responsibility is to work with those private providers, to work with the voluntary organisations, to work with schools to try and increase the supply," he told 5 live.
The problem was "the amount of funding in the system at the moment", he added.
He said the LGA was now working with the government to see how "a big expansion in provision" could be achieved.
Meanwhile, the Daycare Trust has also warned that government plans to increase the child to nursery worker ratio in England could lead to a two-tier system, with a drop in quality in poor areas.
It said nurseries in disadvantaged areas, where lower fees were charged, were more likely to raise childcare ratios.
Ministers are yet to finalise plans for a long-awaited shake-up of childcare funding and tax breaks.
A government spokesman said ministers wanted to "help working families with costs and accessibility, and will make an announcement soon".
"We are reforming the childcare system so that providers have more flexibility when they have highly-qualified staff and childminders are better supported," he said.
"Ratio changes, which are not compulsory, will allow providers to have the flexibility to increase pay for better-qualified workers.
"High-quality providers will be able to expand and more childminders will enter the market - this will mean parents have more affordable childcare.
"Ofsted will be the only arbiter of quality, removing any council duplication."