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Affordable Childcare

Volume 673: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2020

3. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on steps the Government are taking to increase the availability of affordable childcare. (901468)

5. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on steps the Government are taking to increase the availability of affordable childcare. (901470)

13. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on steps the Government are taking to increase the availability of affordable childcare. (901478)

Over 1 million children are benefiting from the Government’s investment in early years entitlements, which can save their parents up to £5,000 every year. In the next financial year, we plan to spend £3.6 billion on this. Furthermore, our manifesto commits to another £1 billion for more wraparound and holiday childcare places from 2021. We have already started working on the details.

Further to my hon. Friend’s answer, what is being done to increase the availability of affordable childcare for parents with disabled children who may require more specialist provision?

Disabled children get an extra 15 hours of early years education from the age of two, and their parents can also receive extra support through tax-free childcare of up to £4,000 per child per year until the child is 17. The disability access fund also gives providers £615 per eligible child to support access to those early years settings.

I welcome the fact that, in their manifesto, this Conservative Government announced £1 billion for the flexible childcare fund, but, in light of the recent outbreak of coronavirus in Staffordshire, may I ask what extra provision the Government are providing for wraparound childcare while this epidemic continues?

Coronavirus is the top priority, and we must follow medical and scientific advice. Public Health England continues to advise schools and settings, and that includes early years settings, to remain open unless otherwise advised. We are aware of concerns from early years providers about potential closures and are working to minimise the impact. This is a top priority. In the meantime, there is a dedicated helpline for schools and their parents. Mr Speaker, the helpline number for schools and parents is 0800 0468687.

During my recent visit to the Overton Playcentre in my constituency of Clwyd South, the manager, Rachel Harris, described the childcare offer that they deliver to parents as “life-changing”. Does the Minister agree that the seamless transition that is offered by the Overton Playcentre between its childcare and the education at the nearby St Mary’s Church in Wales Primary School, with which they work very closely, offers an effective model for maximising the availability of affordable childcare?

May I pass on my congratulations to the Overton Playcentre? It is absolutely great when we see a pre-school and early years establishment work together with schools in the best interests of children. It really does make a difference. Last year, nearly three out of every four children were reaching a good level of development by the time they ended reception, and that is up from just one in two back in 2013. That is partly due to excellent playgroups and schools working together such as those in Clwyd South.

The SNP is transforming childcare and the lives of parents in Scotland with our commitment to the most generous offer in the UK. Currently, 600 hours are provided per year to all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds. We are increasing that to 1,140 hours from August this year. Why have the UK Government not yet matched that offer?

This UK Government are the most generous provider of childcare. Early entitlement for children in England are up £3.6 billion this year for 30 hours of childcare for three and four-year-olds plus an extra 15 hours for disadvantaged two-year-olds. It saves up to £5,000 per child per year. Furthermore, tax-free childcare gives every parent a maximum of another £2,000 per annum for every child, which goes up to £4,000 for children with disabilities.

I welcome the Minister’s comments about the helpline for early years providers worried about the corona- virus, but she will know that Lou Simmons, the owner of Abbottswood Day Nursery in my constituency, contacted me because the helpline was unable to give the answers that providers need. What assurance can my hon. Friend the Minister give that that helpline is now up to speed and that early years providers are getting the right information in a timely fashion?

I am aware of early years providers’ concerns about the potential impact of coronavirus. Early years providers give vital support to families and children, and it is important that they follow the advice to stay open. It is a top priority for me to give them the reassurance they need, and I will make that announcement as soon as possible.

My constituent is studying to be a teacher, but has had to pull back from her course because of the way in which universal credit interacts with student finance. Will the Minister look at this issue urgently to ensure that women are not discouraged from bettering themselves and their own lives because of the way in which the universal credit system works?

The universal credit system can give up to 85% of childcare costs, and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), is happy to meet the hon. Member to follow up on that point.