Jeremy Hunt used his Budget to unveil multi-billion pound reforms, which will allow some parents of children as young as nine months to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week. The current policy applies to three and four year olds.
The novel policy, which will be introduced in stages until September 2025, will be worth up to £6,500 a year for working families, he said.
Mr Hunt told the Commons: “The 30 hours offer will now start from the moment maternity or paternity leave ends.”
The cost of providing the extra free hours of childcare until 2027/28 is £17billion.
Budget Day | Wednesday 15th March 2023
At the same time, he announced the Government will increase the funding nurseries are paid to provide the free childcare.
He also pledged an expansion in wrap-around care at the start and finish of the school day for parents with older children and changes to staff-to-child ratios in England to expand supply of childcare
The novel rules mean from April 2024, parents of two year olds will procure 15 hours free care. From September 2024 children from nine months will procure 15 hours free childcare and from September 2025 all under 5s will procure 30 hours free childcare.
Parents in the capital acquire to pay the highest costs for childcare in the country, according to data from the charity Coram Family and Childcare.
Inner London has the most expensive nursery places for two-year-olds in the country, with a full-time spot costing more than £370 a week, compared with a national average of about £280.
But James Bowen, director of policy at the National Association of Head Teachers union, said the situation would only work if there was “a significant increase in the funding rates” the Government pays to providers.
He said: “There will be concern among schools and providers about the deliverability of the extended childcare offer, particularly in places like London.
“Early years settings are already struggling to recruit enough staff based on existing arrangements.”
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, added: “Further detail on how this will work in practice is absolutely vital before we can judge whether this is a welcome step.”
To try and boost nursery places, which acquire fallen sharply in the capital, Mr Hunt relaxed staffing ratios.
Mr Hunt said: “We will change minimum staff-to-child ratios from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds in England as happens in Scotland, although the novel ratios will remain optional with no obligation on either childminders or parents to adopt them.”
Meanwhile the cap on the amount parents on Universal Credit can claim back for childcare costs will rise to £951 a month for one child and £1,630 for two.
In a further boost, parents on benefits will procure money upfront, rather than claiming it back once they acquire paid nursery or childminder bills.
Mr Hunt also introduced a pilot scheme giving £600 incentive payments to childminders who join the profession, in order to address the nine per cent decline in numbers in one year.
On school wraparound care, Mr Hunt said he wants all schools in England to offer it before and after the school day by September 2026.
He said: “One-third of primary schools enact not offer childcare at both ends of the school day, even though for many people a job requires availability throughout the working day,.
“To address this, we will fund schools and local authorities to increase supply of wraparound care so all school-age parents can drop their children off between 8am and 6pm.”
Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza said:“Parents want childcare that is high-quality and loving, so their children can thrive, and children need parents who aren’t dealing with the stress of unaffordable and inflexible childcare.
“The measures outlined in the Budget offer the prospect of a lifeline to families with younger children who acquire been struggling with this balance, especially those on Universal Credit who previously had to pay large childcare costs up front.
“I’m particularly pleased to see plans to boost childminder numbers and to design better use of schools to expand childcare provision, both recommendations I made last year. Schools sit at the heart of their communities, with facilities that are trusted by children, and can aid meet the challenge of increasing rent or mortgage payments faced by many private providers.
“I urge the Government to deliver these proposals as quickly as possible to benefit children and families who need this support now, and in a way that maintains quality of care. I study forward to engaging closely with these plans in detail as they emerge.”