Government accelerates free childcare plans

Priti Patel, the minister for employment. Photo: Mark Thomas/REX
Priti Patel, the minister for employment. Photo: Mark Thomas/REX

David Cameron announced today that the Government will bring forward its plan to double free childcare for working parents.

More than one million families currently benefit from 15 hours of free childcare per week. The Childcare Bill will double this to 30 hours for working parents of three- and four-year-olds. The initiative will benefit an estimated 600,000 families, and will save eligible parents an additional £2,500 per year on childcare costs.

The Conservatives initially pledged to introduce the scheme in 2017, but ministers will announce an accelerated timetable when the Childcare Bill is introduced tomorrow.

Employment minister Priti Patel is heading up a government taskforce to implement the plans. “Having the right childcare in place will mean more parents can have genuine choice, security, and peace of mind when it comes to being able to support their family,” she said.

Pilot schemes in some areas will introduce the new scheme in September 2016, so some families will benefit from the additional childcare allowance sooner than anticipated.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has welcomed the news. Its deputy director-general Katja Hall said: “It’s good to see the Government shining the spotlight on childcare and lending a helping hand to working families. Many parents want to come back to work or put in more hours after having a child, but can’t because of soaring childcare costs.

“Increasing free childcare provision is an important step to enabling parents to pursue their careers, and allowing businesses to retain skilled and talented employees.”

The Government has pledged to accordingly increase the funding paid to childcare providers for each free place, with the Department of Education set to begin a review before the summer. The review has been welcomed by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA).

Chief executive Pernima Tanuku OBE said: “Given the speed of this reform, it is now extremely important that the Government starts work with the childcare sector as soon as possible to find practical, workable solutions, addressing all the issues involved.

“We have been campaigning for a funding review for several years and we are glad that the Government recognises that childcare providers are struggling with current levels of investment.”

The NDNA has previously reported that nurseries in England were losing an average of £809 per year for each funded child. The scheme only applies in England.

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