Now that I am the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, one of the things I have responsibility for is overseeing the Government’s big new expansion in childcare for parents. Once it is completed in Autumn 2025, it will give working parents 30 hours of free childcare every week from when their child is 9 months old until they start school.
It’s the latest in this Government’s extension of childcare. In 2010, the Government increased the entitlement for 15 hours a week free childcare for 3-4-year-olds. In 2013, it introduced 15 free hours for disadvantaged 2-year- olds and then in 2017 the entitlement for 3 and 4-year-olds was doubled to 30 hours a week.
The new free hours will be rolled out in stages. In April you’ll be able to claim the first 15 free hours each week for 2-year-olds, then in September you’ll be able to claim the first 15 hours a week for children aged 9 months old. The full 30 hours will be available a year later.
We also have schemes for people on Universal Credit and a tax-free childcare programme that can save you an average £2,000 or £4,000 for a child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), too.
The reason for the new expansion is that the cost of childcare is one of the biggest cost of living pressures families are currently facing. When it was energy bills, the Government stepped in and paid half of people’s energy bills. With childcare, the Government is set to double the amount that is being spent on childcare to £8 billion a year, with a saving for families of up to £6,500.
If you are a parent or know someone with children under 5, the best thing to do is to visit the Childcare Choices website at www.childcarechoices.gov.uk. We’ve just launched a new eligibility checker and you can enter some basic details about yourself and find out what you’re entitled to. You can also sign up for alerts so that you can register in time for the new hours being available.
Before I became the minister, childcare had been coming up regularly in my conversations on the doorstep. And when I surveyed local people, 91% of respondents reported experiencing difficulties in accessing childcare and 75% of respondents said that cost has been an issue in accessing childcare.
It’s great for me to now be involved in delivering this exciting new policy. We’re running a big new recruitment campaign to get more people working in the early years and changing regulations to make it easier for childcare providers to do their jobs. It should all make a big difference to children in their earliest years and their parents.