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Child Care

Volume 549: debated on Monday 3 September 2012

The Government have extended free early education to 15 hours a week for all three and four-year-olds, and plan to extend this to around 40% of two-year-olds from September 2014. We recognise, nevertheless, that families might face difficulties with child care costs for older children or those beyond the free entitlement. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have asked the Minister for Disabled People, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), and me to lead a commission to look at the affordability of child care, and we will report in the autumn.

First, I hope that we are going to get an apology from Ministers for the way in which they have treated the One in a Million school in Bradford.

The Minister will be aware of the Daycare Trust’s survey that came out during the summer, which showed an 18% increase over 12 months in the cost of a week’s holiday child care. What are Ministers going to do to support hard-working families and parents who are struggling to meet unaffordable child care costs?

This Government are investing more in early years education than any previous Government: £760 million is being invested to extend the free entitlement down to disadvantaged two-year-olds. As I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s initial question, we have set up a commission to look at these issues, especially those relating to wrap-around care and holiday care, which we know to be particular issues for many parents.

What more can the Minister do to give better support to children with disabilities, including speech and language difficulties, through child care and in early learning centres?

I agree that this is a particular issue. My hon. Friend may be aware that today we published the draft provisions for special educational needs, which we hope will go into the Bill next year. We are particularly looking at extending down the support and protection offered for children in the school system so that nought to fives get similar support. She will also be aware that in the specific guidance to local authorities we highlighted the issue of making sure that they should provide more information for parents who have a disabled child.

As the Minister said, she has today published the draft legislation on the provision for children with special educational needs and disability, so how does she intend to address the shocking fact that 87% of local authorities reported that they do not have enough holiday child care for children with SEND?

I think there is a particular issue to address on the availability of holiday care for many children, not just for disabled children, and the commission is looking at holiday provision. Similarly, we are trying to encourage local authorities to put in place a local offer as part of the draft provisions we published today. That will include making sure that adequate respite care is available, and holiday provision is a prime example of that.

I am very glad that my hon. Friend is looking into holiday provision of child care, as many parents who use child minders outside term time find that they need to pay them a retainer—sometimes as much as £1,000 a year—to keep them when they start using the free entitlement during term time. What can be done to help ensure that such families get the full benefit of the free entitlement?

This issue about paying a retainer to child minders is, again, symptomatic of the difficulty some families face in some areas in accessing holiday child care, and it is precisely why the commission is looking at this issue.