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Free Childcare: What The Budget Changes Mean For Parents

Free Childcare: What The Budget Changes Mean For Parents

The government's Spring Budget proposal to offer funded childcare to working parents of children aged nine months to five years is a significant development in supporting parents to get back into work, but is it realistic?

Starting from April 2024, parents from eligible households working at least 16 hours a week will receive 15 hours of funded childcare support per week. The government childcare announcements show the government will make significant investments into childcare settings and spend an extra £204 million on entitlements for three-and four-year-olds this financial year and an additional £288 million in 2024/2025. This extra childcare costs funding is in addition to the £4.1 billion that the government will provide by 2027-28 to facilitate the expansion of the newly funded hours for younger children.

The new care plan is being staggered to ensure there are enough places within early education child care, with children up to two years old being eligible for the 15 hours of free childcare from April 2024 and children from nine months and up benefiting from September 2024. By September 2025, the biggest change is that every working parent of the under-five-year-olds age group will have access to 30 hours of free care per week.

While these new schemes are undoubtedly a positive step, it's important to note that the free hours of childcare are not entirely free, as parents may still need to top up the hourly rate made by childcare providers, as the additional funding will not be enough to cover the full hourly charge of the childcare place. Additionally, the proposed new ratios in to the approved childcare provider, moving from the current childcare system of one adult to four children to one adult to five children, could put even more strain on carers and negatively impact the quality of care. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said that the change of minimum staff-to-child ratios would be optional and that there would be no obligation for childminders or parents to accept them.

The government is to try to encourage more childminders into the childcare sector by rolling out a pilot scheme offering a £600 incentive payment for new joiners and a £1,200 incentive for those who join via a childminding agency. But even with this pilot scheme to attract extra staff, how will the childcare agencies be able to cope with this increased demand, the increased cost of childcare provision and the increased level of special educational needs and additional support needed due to the influx of free childcare hours being offered to younger children is likely to create.

Many care agencies using the current system have closed due to the increase in extra costs, a lack of financial support from the government and a dwindling workforce, who are struggling financially due to the cost of living crisis and are unable to continue giving their time for the national minimum wage, and move to other jobs with better pay, which seriously impacts staff retention. Unless the proper infrastructure is put in place by the time the extended offers are rolled out, which is likely to mean extra funding to caregivers, many parents of younger children expecting funded places to be readily available to them are likely to be left disappointed.

Overall, the government's commitment to offering free childcare provision to working parents is an encouraging development that could have a significant impact on improving access to affordable childcare. However, it's important to keep in mind the realities of the cost of living crisis and the increased financial pressure on the childminding companies, and the huge costs of ensuring there will be adequate availability of childcare to be able to offer the service.

It's also important to realise that the Conservative government proposing this plan may very well have been voted out and replaced, likely by a Labour government, which may have different ideas on childcare. Therefore, it's possible that this childcare initiative will never actually get far beyond the planning stage!

1 Comment

Mar 18, 2023

Thank you

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