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If Labour wins the next General Election, free childcare for children aged three and four will be increased from 15 hours a week to 25 hours for working families.
Families eligible for the extra ten hours of childcare will be couples who are both in work and single parent households who are working.
The existing 15 hours free childcare for three and four-year-olds will remain universal.
Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls said: “Childcare is a vital part of our economic infrastructure that, alongside family support and flexible working, should give parents the choice to stay at home with their children when they are very small and to balance work and family as they grow older.
“But for many families high child care costs mean that it doesn’t even add up to go to work. So to make work pay for families, we must act.”
Labour’s Shadow Chancellor made the announcement at the Labour Party annual conference and has described Labour’s plans to increase the bank levy to raise an extra £800m a year to pay for the increase in free childcare places.
He said: “Conference, after the financial crisis, it is right that the banks make a greater contribution. But in the last financial year, the banks paid a staggering £2.7 billion less in overall tax than they did in 2010. Over the last two years the Government’s bank levy has raised £1.6billion less than they said it would.
“At a time when resources are tight and families are under pressure that cannot be right. So I can announce today the next Labour government will increase the bank levy rate to raise an extra £800 million a year.
“And we will use the money, for families where all parents are in work, to increase free childcare places for 3 and 4 years olds from 15 hours to 25 hours a week.
“For the first time, parents will be able to work part-time without having to worry about the cost of childcare. Making work pay, tackling the cost of living crisis, a radical transformation in the provision of childcare in our country.”
Chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), Purnima Tanuku has welcomed the news for families, but warned plans to extend free places for three and four-year-olds must be properly costed and funded to avoid causing low pay throughout the childcare sector.
Ms Tanuku said: “While parents will welcome the extra help with childcare it is vitally important the funding for these extended hours is thought through properly and we look forward to hearing more details.
“Childcare providers are already working with a system which is not fit for purpose and leaves the majority making a loss of £700 per child per year on funded places for three and four-year-olds.”
Warning that current free childcare places are making the sector unsustainable, Ms Tanuku has called for Labour to ensure new plans need to be properly funded, and said: “It is these inherent problems which are pushing down pay for childcare workers and making the sector unsustainable for childcare providers. The only way forward is for enough funding to go to the front line, paid directly to childcare providers.
“Extending the hours for three and four-year-olds also raises the question of the funding for under threes which is currently being rolled out. How this will be viable when childcare is more expensive and there is less support available?
“If any party is serious about providing good quality care the first thing it must do is look at the amount of funding invested in childcare and how much needs to reach the provider to cover the cost of the place.
“It is only through proper support we will be able to pay the wages dedicated childcare workers deserve and develop the professional, highly-qualified workforce our children deserve.”
The Pre-school Learning Alliance has welcomed the Labour Party’s pledge to increase free childcare to 25 hours a week should Labour win the next General Election but also echoed the fears raised by the NDNA about funding the proposal.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said: “This is a fantastic idea, but if it is to stand a realistic chance of working it must be adequately funded. At the moment the Government’s subsidies for the 15 hours a week of the free early years entitlement do not fully cover the costs of providing these childcare places for three and four year olds and it is left to providers and parents to make up the shortfall.
“Should the number of hours increase by 40 per cent to 25 hours a week, this must not be costed at or near the current underfunded rate of around £3.79 per hour. To do so will further marginalise childcare providers across the country and exacerbate problems around childcare sustainability, which is currently a major issue in the sector.
“Much has been done by the Government to support parents with their childcare costs but the inequity of underfunding the sector has not been addressed. We hope that those responsible for putting forward this policy will actively engage with the sector in making this proposal a reality."
Anand Shukla, chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, welcomed "Labour’s recognition that childcare must be central to the agenda of the next government and are delighted shadow ministers have adopted the Family and Childcare Trust recommendation to invest in supply side provision."
He said: "If implemented, extending the free childcare offer to 25 hours and matching this commitment with a guarantee of wraparound school care would be a totemic step because it would cover a typical three day or flexible job and provide relief for working families with young children.
"Supply-side funding like the universal childcare offer is an efficient investment and popular with parents because, in contrast with overly complex tax credits and voucher arrangements, it provides simplicity and certainty about the support they will receive.
"There are some important questions about these announcements and we would like to know more about Labour’s proposals to create the infrastructure to deliver the commitments, the proposed timeline for implementation and details on funding.
"Although it is positive to see politicians focusing on the challenges that parents face, we are concerned that there is less emphasis on the tough challenges in childcare that must be addressed: pay and conditions for staff are poor, the free offer is often under-funded locally so that parents subsidise care. Demanding more of the system without proper infrastructure or funding will exacerbate these problems and let down parents and children."
Mr Balls referred to plans from the Labour Party to guarantee primary schools open from 8am to 6pm to provide ‘wrap around’ childcare for primary aged school children.
Mr Balls said: “Stephen Twigg set out yesterday how we will guarantee childcare is available for all primary school children from 8am to 6pm.
But we need to do more for families with nursery age children too.”
Stephen Twigg MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education described plans to ensure that childcare is provided for children whose parents are working and said: “We need school-age childcare that gives parents the support that allows them to work.
“That is why I am announcing that the next Labour government will legislate to deliver a Primary Childcare Guarantee.
“Before and after school childcare for all primary pupils.
“For parents of primary school children the certainty that they can access childcare from 8am-6pm through their school.”
Shopworkers Trade Union leader John Hannett, has welcomed the pledge to provide wrap around childcare for primary school children.
Speaking at the conference in Brighton, Mr Hannett, general secretary of Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) said: “Parents who speak to me rightly identify that affordable and accessible childcare is very important to them and is often one of the most difficult issues they have to contend with in balancing their home and working lives.
“Labour’s commitment to ensure that schools are open 8am to 6pm is a big step forward in ensuring there is childcare provision available in every community.
“In April 2011 childcare was made more expensive for low-paid workers when the Government reduced Childcare Tax Credit from 80 per cent of costs to 70 per cent. This cut has cost families up to £1,560 a year.
“We know that many low-paid workers rely on informal arrangements for childcare with friends and family and this new policy from Labour will help take the pressure off some of those arrangements. Improving childcare affordability and availability helps ensure that people are not locked out of work because they cannot access childcare provision.”
The pledge has been welcomed by children’s charity 4children, whose chief executive Anne Longfield said: “A cast iron guarantee to parents that their children will be well looked after from 8am until 6pm is precisely the kind of bold, relevant policy that 4Children has been campaigning for across all political parties.
“Whilst the childcare challenges of parents with very young children have rightly rocketed to the top of the political agenda, relatively little attention has been paid to the vast array of difficulties that before and after school childcare throws up for working parents. Office hours and school days just don’t match and a guarantee of wrap around childcare would make a immeasurable difference for all those families who find themselves juggling up to three or four forms of childcare in order to work a standard 9-5 day as well as the increasing number of families who work shifts. It is sure to be popular among families everywhere.
“The detail will be important. Schools will need to work with local childcare providers and make sure that extended hours go beyond formal lessons or homework. Parents will also need help with childcare costs - especially those on low incomes. However, this is an exciting development for parents who will look forward to hearing more.”
15 Oct 2013 1:38 PM
It's all very kind of politicins to promise 'free' childcare but they are doing it at the expense of the providers. The hours may be free to the user but providers are loosing money on Early Years Entitlement hours. The money given to providers for these hours is set by the local authority and is regardless of the actual cost of providing the care. In our case the fee was set at £3.63 per hour three years ago and has not increased since, even though our costs continue to grow. This year we will lose nearly £6000 on EYE hours; up from £2000 just two years ago - if the number of hours were increased to 25 the financial position would become totally unsustainable and we would be forced to stop taking Early Years Entitlement altogether. If the government want to provide 'free' childcare they should fund it properly to ensure that it is free and not rob providers to support their schemes