Budget: 30 hours of free childcare for each child from 9 months

SET AND HOLDS Budget 2023 - back to work (childcare)

The announcement comes amid ongoing concerns over childcare costs (Image: Metro.co.uk)

Jeremy Hunt used his very first Budget to extend free childcare to all children under five to ‘put a million women back into work’.

Announcements about energy support and pension supplements were part of what has been dubbed the ‘back to work’ spending package that was presented in the House of Commons this afternoon.

Among them is a billion-dollar parenting grant that some have described as “almost life-changing.”

The chancellor told MPs she will cut childcare costs for families by nearly 60 percent.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 15: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt leaves Downing Street to present his Spring Budget on March 15, 2023 in London, England. Highlights of the 2023 budget are an increase in the pension allowance, with which the Chancellor wants to slow down retirement, an aid package for swimming pools affected by the increase in energy prices and a change in childcare support for parents on universal credit. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The Chancellor leaves Downing Street to present his spring budget (Image: Getty)

The Chancellor told MPs: “I am announcing today that in eligible households where all adults work at least 16 hours we will introduce 30 hours of free childcare, not just for three and four year olds but for every single child over the age of nine months.

“The 30-hour offer now begins when maternity or paternity leave ends.

“It’s a package worth an average of £6,500 per year for a family with a two-year-old child who needs 35 hours of childcare per week and reduces their childcare costs by almost 60%.

“Because this is such a major reform, we will roll it out in stages to ensure there is enough supply in the market.

“From April 2024, working parents of two-year-olds will have access to 15 hours of free childcare, helping around half a million parents.

“From September 2024, those 15 hours will be extended to all children aged 9 months and over, meaning almost a million parents are eligible in total.

“And from September 2025, every single working parent of under-5s will have access to 30 hours of free childcare per week.”

But there are concerns as to whether the Chancellor’s plan can actually be implemented.

Welcomed the move, Joeli Brearley, CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed, a group that has championed investment in the childcare sector for nearly a decade.

However, she stressed that the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has estimated that what the Government plans to do will cost £8.9bn, not £4bn, to implement.

“We have to see exactly how this money is distributed,” said the founder.

“They will also reportedly give £288m to make up the shortfall in the current entitlement to free lessons for three and four year olds – that’s not enough.

“It will not fill this gap and we fear that the quality of early childhood education will deteriorate, more providers will close and childcare providers will leave the sector.

“It’s great that we have these new free periods, but it won’t work if parents can’t secure a place.

“We are also concerned about increased quotas, there is no evidence that this reduces costs but there is evidence that it will reduce quality.

“The first five years of a child’s life are fundamental to their future and that’s why we will pay for it later.”

Pressure has mounted on the government to act on childcare, which is said to be among the most expensive in the world.

Meanwhile, Labor vowed to completely overhaul the UK system, calling it “broken”.

Alison McGovern, the shadow employment secretary, said any childcare announcement must be part of a “proper reform strategy”.

But some parents, like Nora Parr, have called the government surge “exhilarating”.

The part-time graduate from Hornsey, north London, said she and her partner pay £1,040 a month for four half-days of nursery a week for their 16-month-old daughter.

“We could apply for a mortgage, I could work more. I pick up the baby after lunch and finish work during her nap, every minute of childcare is spent on working time,” she said.

“I could have five minutes to myself. The kids room is brilliant but it takes up a big chunk of our budget.

“Changing our finances would be almost life-changing. This would save us over £1,000 a month.”

Daycare providers have raised concerns about underfunding and complained about the lack of government investment.

Currently, all families aged three and four are entitled to 15 hours of free care per week for 38 weeks.

To qualify for 30 hours, parents must earn the equivalent of 16 hours per week at the national minimum or living wage.

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https://metro.co.uk/2023/03/15/budget-30-hours-of-free-childcare-for-every-child-over-the-age-of-9-months-18445544/ Budget: 30 hours of free childcare for each child from 9 months

Justin Scacco

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