More free childcare would make little difference, report says
More free childcare would make little difference to reducing poverty or getting more women back to work, a report for the Welsh government says.
Labour and Plaid Cymru both pledge to raise it from 10 to 30 hours a week.
The Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW) said this would have no "substantial impacts on net income, poverty or work behaviour".
Labour said it would help working parents, employers and the economy. Plaid said children were its priority.
The report said an extra 20 hours free childcare for three to four-year-olds would not have "substantial impacts on net income, poverty or work behaviour for families with children".
It said this was because a "relatively small proportion" of families with children of this age use formal paid childcare and those that do "tend to pay moderate amounts".
Any savings on childcare costs would be partly offset by reductions in other benefits, the report found.
Lead author Dr Gillian Paull said: "If the aim is to encourage women to return to work, or to help more disadvantaged families with the costs of childcare, our analysis suggests that extending free childcare for three to four-year-olds from ten hours to 30 hours will not achieve this to any significant degree."
PPIW deputy director Dan Bristow said the findings raised "serious questions" about Welsh ministers' funding for additional free childcare.
"They show that it has no significant impact on the number of mothers entering paid employment and spending by the Welsh government simply displaces the UK government's spending on benefits," he said.
But Labour's Communities and Tackling Poverty Minister Lesley Griffiths responded: "We are very clear that people who are working hard to provide for their families deserve a helping hand.
"Wherever I go in Wales, hard-working parents of young children tell me childcare costs and availability are a major problem for them."
Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas said: "The main aim of childcare is to provide additional support to children, not the economy.
"We know that there is already an attainment gap of up to nine months for children from deprived backgrounds compared to their better-off peers. This was not investigated in the PPIW report."
The PPIW was established in 2014 to give Welsh ministers fresh ideas on how to improve Wales' public services.