Hunt to massively expand the open spaces in England’s kindergartens

Parents of one and two-year-olds in England are entitled to 30 hours of free childcare a week, under a £4billion giveaway expected to be announced in Wednesday’s budget.

The significant increase in early childhood education entitlements is part of a series of childcare measures that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is about to announce. He should also increase the funding for places, according to interlocutors.

The drive to make childcare more affordable and accessible comes as Hunt seeks to reverse the rise in unemployment by making work easier for parents.

Currently, parents of three- and four-year-olds can claim 15 or 30 hours of free childcare per week during the term, but younger children are not eligible everywhere.

Plans, first reported by The Guardian, will extend the entitlement to parents of one and two year olds. It remains to be seen, however, when the expansion will take place or whether funds will be reallocated from other early intervention areas.

The government will also increase funding for daycare centers for the free hours, easing concerns from providers who insist the amount they are paid per hour is well below their costs.

Research by the Early Years Alliance, a trade organisation, found that in 2021 the government was giving nurseries around £4.90 for every hour funded, although it was estimated that care would cost around £7.50 per hour per child.

EYA boss Neil Leitch said the underfunding had “brought the system to its knees”. While a £4billion pledge sounded “impressive”, he said the “devil is in the details” and that an expansion would not be sustainable unless the Government significantly increased funding per hour.

If the money for more seats doesn’t match providers’ “spiking” costs, “the current crisis will end in disaster,” he added.

Providers have previously called for a full overhaul of the free time system, which Labor has pledged to do if it wins the next election.

People close to the discussions said the government will provide an additional €200m in 2023-24.

The increase will add to funding, which totaled around £4bn in 2021-22 – an increase of around 5 per cent next year.

The government will also offer new self-employed childminders a bonus of £500 or £1,000 if they join through an agency and will relax the ratio rules so one adult can look after five two-year-olds instead of four children under three at the moment.

Hunt said Sunday he would reform the universal credit benefit system so parents can apply for childcare assistance upfront, not afterwards. He will also increase the cap on what can be claimed from £646 to £950 for one child and more for two children.

The Treasury declined to comment.

Video: Can UK childcare be fixed? Hunt to massively expand the open spaces in England’s kindergartens

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