Free childcare for working parents in England will be expanded to children between the ages of nine months and two, today’s Spring Budget has confirmed.
At the moment, only families with three and four-year-olds qualify for 30 hours of free childcare per week. Under new plans, children over the age of nine months will be eligible for the additional support.
The support will be phased in gradually up to September 2025, “until every single eligible working parent of under 5s gets this support”, chancellor Jeremy Hunt said.
This will start with 15 hours of free childcare for working parents of two-year-olds from April 2024, then15 hours of free childcare for parents of 9 month to three-year-old children from September 2024.
Earlier this week, Hunt announced that the government would start paying childcare costs upfront for people claiming Universal Credit, providing they attend more meetings with work coaches.
The funding paid to nurseries for the existing free hours offers will also be increased by £204 million from this September rising to £288 million next year, the government said.
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Industry bodies and charities have been pushing for more support with childcare for working parents for months.
According to the OECD, childcare costs in the UK are among the highest in the world. The average percentage of net family income spent on childcare in the UK is 22%, compared to an OECD average of 10%.
Before the Budget announcement was confirmed, Labour MP Stella Creasy said the expansion would need more financial backing to work.
“If this is true, it’s asking childcare providers to offer more hours at a loss as it’s only half the money needed to deliver this promise,” she tweeted.
🚨🚨If this is true, it’s asking childcare providers to offer more hours at a loss as it’s only half the money needed to deliver this promise. Would be the same as help to buy scheme which pushed up house prices because it didn’t increase supply 🚨🚨https://t.co/nPwRI8HfZy
— stellacreasy (@stellacreasy) March 14, 2023
A recent survey by HR software company HiBob found that less than a fifth of employers offer childcare as a benefit, and only 32% of women get extended paid maternity leave.
Zoe Haimovitch, senior director of strategic projects at the company, welcomed the confirmation in the Budget: “The UK’s childcare system is the most unaffordable in the developing world. Layer on top of this the current cost-of-living crisis, and we can see clearly why women, who take on a disproportionate share of unpaid caregiving, are excluded from the workforce.
“It’s an issue that’s not only impacting families and businesses, but it’s now impacting the overall economy. Delivering on the promise of additional childcare support could have an enormous impact. Childcare has been over-looked for far too long.”
The annual Women in Work index by consulting firm PwC saw the UK fall five places in terms of affordable childcare, noting that many women were priced out of returning to work due to childminder or nursery costs.
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