Childcare is too important to be a political football, but one of childcare’s experts and long-term thinkers, Stephen Burke, recently said in the Huffington Post that “childcare became the subject of a bidding war between the parties” in the last election and that ‘surprisingly the Tories outbid Labour and promised 30 hours a week free childcare to parents of three and four year old children.” He puts Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne as the driver stating he “has clearly identified that improving childcare is key to increasing productivity and reviving the British economy.”
The Government has announced today that a new Childcare Bill will double free childcare available for all working parents of 3 and 4 year olds to 30 hours a week – available to up to 600,000 families and worth around £5,000 a year – including the £2,500 they can already save from existing free childcare offers.
And, in a move to underline the government’s commitment to support working families with the costs of childcare, plans are being drawn up to introduce the changes for some families a year earlier than planned, with pilots in some areas offering 30 hours worth of free places from September 2016.a year earlier than planned
Minister for Employment, Priti Patel, on the right of the party and a rising star, is being put in charge. She has claimed that this government “is doing more than any other government to improve the affordability and accessibility of childcare for working families. 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.”
The government has said that childcare funding rates to increase, with review promised before summer. But research by the Pre-school Learning Alliance of private and voluntary childcare providers found the policy could create a £350m funding gap because hours paid for by the government are currently underfunded. They claim the gap could end up being covered by other parents whose rates would go up to subsidise the new scheme.
The Guardian quotes Harriet Harman, Labour’s acting leader, as promising “to hold Cameron to account over what he has promised on childcare, noting the cost for the average family has soared by £1,500 a year since 2010. “The rhetoric might be promising, but the reality is that children’s centres have closed and the cost of childcare has soared,”.
Childcare needs to be of the highest quality if it is to do the best for children. And Belina would prefer that all children’ regardless of their parents working status were able to access the 30 hours. Childcare needs to reflect their needs too.