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How Britain’s childcare crisis became the first big general election battle

Britain is in the middle Childcare crisis.of Labor Party Recognized it as the main line of demarcation with the Conservative Party in the next election.

shadow education secretary bridget phillipson He promised to overhaul the childcare system and even pitched it to a center-right think tank.

Tightly parked tanks on Tory lawns, she described Labor as “the party of the family”.

With the childcare system on its knees, skyrocketing tuition fees, staff retention issues and daycare closures, it was perfect for Labor.

but when Jeremy Hunt announced his first budget on Wednesdayit seemed that the Tories suddenly jumped over them on this issue.

The Prime Minister has announced that parents of children under the age of five working in the UK are entitled to 30 hours of free childcare per week.

Under the current system, parents of children aged 3 and 4 are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week, and working parents are entitled to 30 hours of free childcare per week.

Who is Jeremy Hunt Childcare plan?

30 hours of free childcare for working parents with children aged 9 months to 5 years will be phased in.

  • After April 2024: Working parents of a 2-year-old are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week.
  • After September 2024: Children aged 9 months to 2 years receive 15 hours of free childcare.
  • September 2025: All eligible children under the age of 5 receive 30 hours of free childcare.

The government will provide £4.1 billion between 2027 and 2028 to expand 30 hours a week of free childcare for working parents with young children in England.

Ministers have also provided £204m in 2023-24, increasing to £288m in 2024-25, and pledged to UK childcare providers to provide existing free hours. Increase the hourly funding rate paid.

The government will trial incentive payments of £600 for childminders joining the profession and £1,200 for those joining through an agency.

We will also provide £289m to schools to increase the supply of wraparound care so that parents can leave their children between 8am and 6pm. They want all schools to start offering wraparounds by September 2026.

The Government will change the minimum staff-to-child ratio for 2-year-olds in day care centers in England from 1:4 to 1:5, but the change remains ‘optional’.

Parental assistance is also paid to parents upfront with universal credits, not postpaid. The maximum amount a parent can claim in this position increases to £951 for one child and her £1,630 for two children.

Phillipson said it showed the government had “finally listened” to Labor’s demands to invest in and reform childcare.

The plan was hailed by Tory lawmakers, campaign groups and think tanks, who said it was a “game changer” that would allow women to return to work earlier.

A quick Savanta poll found that half of those polled broadly supported Hunt’s first budget, while 69% supported extending childcare.

However, as experts point out, the announcement is far from what it seems. The Tories may have won this battle, but they have not yet won the war.

“We think the Tories have shot our foxes, but that will soon come to light when it collides with reality,” said one labor source. is not.”

They said the Tories had stolen the framework of the debate but showed that Labor was leading the issue. “I think they’re a little rattled,” the source added.

Shadow Secretary of Education Bridget Phillipson.

Stéphane Rousseau – PA Image via Getty Images

hole in the plan

Big questions have been raised about the prime minister’s plan’s funding, staff shortages and location supply.

Hunt’s plans have also focused on his efforts to get more people back into the workplace, raising concerns that the quality of childcare could be sacrificed.


Health care providers are concerned that day care centers and childminders may struggle to provide additional places if the increased costs are not funded.

Some are already suffering financially after being forced to close their nurseries in recent years.

of Early Years AllianceA representative for the UK organization said “serious questions” remained about plans to extend free childcare services.

CEO Neil Leach said: Completely defies this rhetoric. “

Based on the government’s own figures, the current deficit for 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds is estimated to be around £1.8bn, and Mr Leach said it was “very likely” to match the amount needed for additional funding. low,” he said.

The Fiscal Institute, an economics think tank, warned that Mr. Hunt’s changes pose “huge risks” to the childcare market.

They said providers could opt out of offering new entitlements or even leave the market altogether if funding rates are too low. may become.

IFS’ Christine Farquharson said the budget did not include “very detailed information” about the funding rates nurseries would receive in response to such “major reforms.”

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said he was concerned that funding was “falling short” of what was needed, and said workers needed better wages and conditions to recruit and retain. .

The Association of Local Governments said the announcement would require “significant investment” in labor and nursery schools, but Mumsnet’s Justin Roberts said the allocated funds actually provided expanded provisions. He said there were “clear concerns” about whether it would be sufficient to do so.


Early Years Alliance’s Leach said Hunt’s plan would boost demand for accommodations, but it was unclear how cabinet ministers would seek to ensure adequate supply.

Tory MP Robin Walker, chairman of the Commons Board of Education, has questioned how the sector will expand to meet the growing demand for childcare in the future.

Labor MP Stella Creesey, who has campaigned on the issue, said that without adequate funding, Hunt’s plan would have all the hallmarks of an assisted purchase scheme that made the housing market “worse for first-time buyers”. I warned you.

She added: “Governments urgently need to make it clear that more money will be made available to meet the demand they have created. Many parents and children are still in danger of being stranded without care.”

Without a workforce plan, providers will continue to be “forced to shut down,” said Joeli Brearley of Pregnant Then Screwed.

NCT CEO Angela McConville said there is “little sense” in free childcare when childcare facilities are limited for families to access.

“This reform will inevitably lead to increased demand for provision, and many childcare facilities are already overbooked,” she added.


A labor source said plans to raise the minimum two-year-old staff-to-child ratio in England from 1:4 to 1:5 were “absolute nonsense”. They said most providers don’t want it, adding that it “just reduces quality and safety.”

Ms Leach described the rate change as “utterly appalling” and emphasized that parents want their children to receive quality care and education in a safe environment. , stressed that “this policy has been completely ignored.”

Pregnant Then Screwed said an increase in the ratio would “put pressure” on a low-wage workforce, while London Labor MP Marina Ahmad went a step further, saying: “Current plans undermine child safety and the quality of care.” I am worried about that,” he said.

Unison General Secretary Christina McAnea added, “Changing the ratios to reduce the number of minimum wage childcare staff to care for more young people is not the answer.”

Megan Jervey of the charity Corum said programs must be funded at levels that cover the cost of quality care. I pointed out what I was feeling.

how bad UK parenting crisis?

Overall picture: According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), parents in the UK face the highest childcare costs of any major economy.

Soaring costs: According to the charity Korum, the average annual cost of full-time nursery care for children under two in the UK is now £14,836.

Zip Lottery: The average weekly cost of part-time work for children under 2 is 54% higher in Central London (£199.01) than in Yorkshire and Humberside (£129.32).

Staffing frenzy: a Provider survey Eighty-four percent said it was “difficult” to hire the right new graduate recruits, with the majority (60%) finding it “extremely difficult.”

Nursery school closures: There were 5,400 closures in the year to August 2022, with a number of early years setting closures across England, according to the UK. Obstead data.

The procession of mummies in Whitehall, London, October 2022.
The procession of mummies in Whitehall, London, October 2022.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The battle has begun over the UK childcare system

All of this shows that the country’s childcare crisis is far from resolved, and should be a major battle between the two parties in the general election.

Not only this, but most of Hunt’s reforms on parenting time won’t go into effect until after the elections scheduled for 2024.

“This is going to be a big election issue and it’s not over,” a Labor source said. “There is a lot to talk about our offer. This is not the end of the discussion.”

NCT CEO Angela McConville warned that “the headlines can be misleading,” adding that “implemented changes won’t start until next year and will be available to all 9-month-olds by 2025.” It does not apply,” he added.

Labor’s shadow secretary of education, Phillipson, has pledged Labor to make parenting reform “at the heart of our mission” to break down “barriers to opportunity.”

HuffPost UK understands that the Labor Party will be discussing parenting standards in the coming weeks.

Because Tories are so focused on getting parents to work, they see their children’s life chances as a huge gap in their plans.

They also talk about a properly trained workforce, which they claim is completely lacking in Hunt’s budget.

Rachel Statham of the Public Policy Institute think tank has stressed that the country needs a “wholesale reform” to provide families with affordable, high-quality care.

“For now, important issues around funding, quality and location availability remain open,” she added.

Charlotte Alldritt, CEO of the Center for Progressive Policy think tank, said:

“Labor has made a lot of noise about parenting, but so far it has revealed little about its policy proposals.

“As high costs continue to eat into household budgets and living standards continue to stagnate, voters need to quickly learn which parties they can trust.

Early Years Alliance’s Leach said it was “clear” that building and maintaining a strong early years sector must become a “key focus” for all parties in the upcoming elections.

He added: “The next election is not just another battle over who can promise the most ‘free childcare’ and this sector should not be treated as more than political football. is important.”

The Department of Education referred us to an interview with Secretary of Education Gillian Keegan. Grazia Magazine.

Asked how daycares can be made responsive, Keegan said more money would go into a system that allows providers to figure out how they want to use it.

“Some of that will go into wages and salaries to keep people in and attract them,” she said.

Government sources stressed that Hunt’s plan was “the biggest investment in childcare yet in England”.

“By 2027-28 we expect to spend over £8bn each year on free time and early education to help working families pay for child care,” they added. .

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