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Child Care Costs

Volume 573: debated on Monday 6 January 2014

First, we are increasing the supply of child care to bring down costs, reversing the decline in childminders by giving top childminders automatic access to Government funding, enabling the creation of childminder agencies which will be a one-stop shop for parents and childminders, and getting better value out of school sites by encouraging schools and nurseries to open from 8 am to 6 pm to support working parents. Secondly, we are supporting parents with costs through tax-free child care, which will be available from next year and give working parents up to £1,200 per child.

Despite budget cuts of £100 million since 2010, Salford council is aiming to provide 25 hours of nursery care for our three and four-year-olds. This extra funding for our nursery schools will make a great difference to hard-pressed families. However, 56 out of 76 schools in Salford will lose out from September because of Government changes to their funding allocations. Why are the Government acting to undermine the attempts we are making in Salford to support our hard-pressed parents who need child care?

I assure the hon. Lady that we are in fact increasing spending on early intervention and child care across the country. We have increased early intervention spending from £2.1 billion to £2.5 billion, and we are increasing the funding for two, three and four-year-olds as well. The reality is that under this Government the costs of child care have stabilised, whereas under the previous Government they went up by over £1,000 a year.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s urgent drive to ensure that parents get the places to which their children are entitled. I welcome it in Norfolk, where £33 million is allocated for more school places. I also welcome it in terms of child care, for which 500 more two-year-olds in my constituency will be eligible. Will she join me in getting more information to parents on how they can access that flexibly?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We are keen that school nurseries, which typically operate two sessions a day, do it more flexibly to help to support working parents so that they can take up three five-hour slots a week that may fit in with their part-time jobs. At the moment, too many school assets are empty between the hours of 3 pm and 6 pm or before school. We can use them better and get better value for money.

Given that under the hon. Lady’s Government the cost of child care has risen by 30%, or five times faster than wages, and by a staggering £304 on average in the past year alone, what help with these costs is she providing to parents during this Parliament?

The hon. Lady is cherry-picking her statistics. Many studies show that costs have stabilised under this Government, and they are in line with inflation. Her colleague in the House of Lords, Baroness Hughes, admitted that she got it wrong when Labour was in power, when costs went up by £1,000 a year. We have upped the amount of free child care for three and four-year-olds from 12 and a half hours a week to 15 hours a week, supporting hard-working families, but we are not making unfunded promises such as spending the bankers levy 11 times.

I congratulate the Minister on what this Government have done on child care. There have recently been proposals for universal child care. Will she give an estimate of the costs that that might entail?

The Department for Education has worked out that universal full-time child care for children aged one to four would cost £18 billion.