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Free Childcare

Volume 605: debated on Monday 25 January 2016

2. What progress the Government have made on implementing their policy to provide 30 hours of free childcare for working parents. (903200)

5. What progress the Government have made on implementing their policy to provide 30 hours of free childcare for working parents. (903203)

We are making rapid and substantial progress towards our manifesto commitment to provide 30 hours of free childcare for working families. The Chancellor has committed to an increase in funding for free places of more than £1 billion a year by 2020. The Report stage and Third Reading of the Childcare Bill will take place this afternoon, and early implementation is on track for this autumn, with full roll-out in 2017.

In rural areas, nurseries are often smaller which can result in higher costs per pupil. Can the Minister assure me that those nurseries will not be adversely affected, and will he visit my constituency to see some of those nurseries at first hand?

May I reassure my hon. Friend that our review of childcare costs, in consultation with the sector, took into account the cost of childcare for every type of provider right across the country? We have announced an increase in the average national funding rate from £4.56 an hour to £4.88 for three and four-year-olds from 2017-18 and will be consulting to ensure that that reaches the frontline. In response to my hon. Friend’s request, I would be delighted to visit nurseries in Hampshire, which, I know, are at the forefront of innovation in the sector.

Next month, I will be holding my fifth annual jobs and apprenticeships fair at the outstanding Mid Cheshire College. Does my hon. Friend welcome the extension of this Government’s commitment to 30 hours of free childcare to help parents get back to work?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Weaver Vale jobs fair. He is absolutely right that the purpose of the 30-hour commitment is to help make work pay, help with the cost of living and give children the best start in life. May I suggest that he invites local childcare providers to his jobs fair so that parents can talk to them as well as to potential employers, and I encourage all colleagues to do the same?

Does the Minister agree that a parent’s childcare needs do not end when a child reaches four, and that after school and school holiday childcare is absolutely essential, particularly for working parents? Does he therefore share my disappointment that Westminster City Council is ending all funding for its school-age childcare service, or play service, as part of a £665,000 cut to their children’s services budget?

The hon. Lady asks a very important question about childcare for school-age children. I cannot comment on the specific case of Westminster City Council, but I do know that tax-free childcare, which we have legislated for and which comes into force from 2017, will allow parents to purchase childcare out of school for children from nought to 12, and for disabled children up to the age of 18.

That is an excellent question. There are many excellent school nurseries available. She may be aware that, as part of our last spending review, we announced £50 million of capital funding, and that we will be working with schools that need to expand to be able to deliver the cost of childcare.

The Government’s plans for introducing 30 hours of free childcare for working parents have rightly received cross-party support, but, as we have already heard, there is still some way to go with regard to parents seeking employment. What work will the Minister do with parents who are currently seeking employment to enable them to access the childcare?

The hon. Lady appears to have phoned not one friend, but two. We are deeply grateful to her and to those hon. Members.

It is encouraging to see that the Scottish National party has followed the Conservative party’s lead and is now pledging 30 hours of childcare in the upcoming Scottish elections. The hon. Lady will be aware that we have the childcare element of tax credits in England, so that parents who do not qualify for the second 15 hours can get support for up to 75% of their childcare costs through that policy.

On 14 April last year, the Prime Minister boasted—I cannot do a David Cameron impression—that with a Conservative Government

“you will get 30 hours of free childcare a week”.

As I recall, there was much rejoicing throughout the land. However, can the Minister now confirm that one in three of the families who he said would get the 30 hours of free childcare—and they believed it because the Prime Minister told them that they would—will receive no additional hours at all?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. I look forward to her future contributions as vice-chair of Progress, especially as I now understand that to be a front for hard-right views in the Labour party. She will know that for the first 15 hours, the offer is universal— 99% of four-year-olds and 94% of three-year-olds get it. We have been very clear that the second 15 hours is a work incentive. Surely she does not believe that Islington parents on £100,000 a year should be entitled to free childcare. I know that she wants to represent the new core constituency of the Labour party.