Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has defended the speed of the rollout of his budget offer of free childcare for working parents, describing it as the “biggest transformation in childcare in my lifetime”.
The new childcare package will see working families having access to 30 hours of free childcare per week for children aged between nine months and four years old, where all adults in the household work at least 16 hours. The policy had previously only applied to the parents of three and four-year-olds.
However, challenged by Sky’s Jayne Secker on the speed of the measures, which she said will not have kicked in by the time of the next election, Mr Hunt defended his plans.
“It’s only people who are thinking of getting pregnant now who are going to benefit from this,” Secker said.
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The Chancellor responded, telling Sky News: “This is the biggest transformation in childcare in my lifetime.
“It’s a huge change and we are going to need thousands more nurseries, thousands more schools offering provision they don’t currently offer, thousands more childminders.
“We are going as fast as we can get the supply in the market to expand.
“But it is the right thing to do because we have one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world and we know it is something that is a huge worry, for women in particular, that they have this cliff-edge when maternity leave ends after nine months, no help until the child turns three and that can often be career ending.
“So I think it is the right thing to do for many women, to introduce these reforms and we are introducing them as quickly as we can because we want to remove those barriers to work.”
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The offer of free childcare for working parents will be available to those with two-year-olds from April 2024, covering around half a million parents, but it will initially be limited to 15 hours.
From September 2024, the 15-hour offer will be extended to children from nine months, helping a total of nearly a million parents, and the full 30-hour offer to all under-fives will come in from September 2025.