Government announces funding for early introduction of 30 hours of free childcare
Following the introduction of the Childcare Bill in June 2015, Childcare Minister Sam Gyimah has now announced (2 February 2016) £13 million of funding, which will allow councils provide 30 hours of free childcare to working parents of three and four year olds, a year ahead of original plans.
The aim of the Bill is to address beliefs that rising childcare costs have been a barrier preventing parents, particularly mothers, from working. The government claims that the additional free childcare hours will allow thousands more parents to return to work.
Eligible working parents both earning the equivalent of 16 hours a week at the national minimum or living wage, and earning no more than £100,000 a year per parent, in the pilot areas of Wigan, Staffordshire, Swindon, Portsmouth, Northumberland, York, Newham and Hertfordshire are now set to benefit from the additional hours of childcare from September 2016. Although it will be at the discretion of the councils as to how they offer places during the trial period.
The pilot councils above will be supported by 25 other councils, referred to as "early innovators" who will share £4m of the budget in order to find ways of making sure childcare is accessible to as many parents as possible. Experiences obtained by these innovator councils, such as the South West's, Cornwall Council will be used to support the full rollout of the additional hours in 2017. Steve Double, Member of Parliament for St Austell and Newquay has welcomed the announcement that Cornwall will be included in the pilot scheme.
The news, which will be popular with working parents, has however not been welcomed by all. Many in early years settings have questioned the viability of delivering the 30 hours free entitlement and the Pre-School Learning Alliance comments that its research suggests an extra £600 million is needed over and above the government confirmed £1bn to fund the provision. Some local authorities have also predicted that some small settings would have to close as a result.
Childcare Minister Sam Gyimah said:
"I’m pleased that we are investing in childcare, and I’m looking forward to seeing how working parents benefit from 30 hours’ free childcare, before we roll the offer out to the rest of the country."