Skip to main content

Affordable and Accessible Childcare

Volume 717: debated on Monday 4 July 2022

We are committed to improving the cost, choice and availability of childcare. We have spent more than £3.5 billion in each of the past three years in the Department for Education on both education and tax-free childcare. On the childcare element of universal credit, we spend between £4 billion and £5 billion each year. Today, we have announced further measures to increase take-up of childcare support and to reduce the cost and bureaucracy facing both parents and providers.

The Secretary of State has described the Government policy very eloquently, but given the soaring cost of childcare and the enormous pressure on parents and, indeed, on the sector, would it not be so much better to introduce a childcare recovery plan to invest properly in the sector, giving it the resources that are needed and substantially increasing the funds available, rather than cutting costs and looking at staff to child ratios? Will he also look again at the funding of specific parts of the sector, such as the excellent maintained nursery sector; we have three excellent maintained nurseries in Reading. Will he also consider an independent review into this important sector?

On the maintained nurseries, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. When I was children and families Minister, I saw the great work they do. We have announced £10 million of additional support for maintained nurseries. We are investing up to £180 million specifically on early years recovery to address the impacts of the pandemic. That includes £153 million investment in evidence-based professional development for early years practitioners, which are equally important for the sector, because, clearly it is a tight labour market at the moment.

I thank the Secretary of State and his excellent Minister for their drive for quality in this sector. Those of us on the all-party parliamentary group on childcare and early education will study carefully the consultation put out today, but can the Secretary of State say what discussions he has had with Ofsted regarding the proposed changes to staffing ratios in early years settings that we have heard about today, and when the Department might be able to publish further details of the wider package of childcare reforms that the Minister for Children and Families alluded to on Sky News this morning?

Ofsted has been central to our work and we are consulting on the ratio issue that he mentions. We are also looking closely at childminders, a market that could do with some tender loving care at the moment, and seeing not only how we can help childminders to come into the sector by helping them with fees, but, once they have registered, how we ensure that inspections are proportionate and that they feel they are well rewarded for the work they do so brilliantly.

Instead of delivering meaningful reform of their broken childcare system, the Government have announced a consultation on allowing staff in early years settings to look after more children. Pregnant Then Screwed reports that four out of five childcare providers said that changing ratios would not be of any financial benefit to their organisation, and only one in 12 said that any cost savings would be passed on to parents. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that this proposal will make a meaningful difference to the cost of childcare for families—yes or no?

If the hon. Lady reads the announcement and the case study we put forward, she will see that if the cost is passed on to parents, it is about £40. Crucially, however, it is not a silver bullet. This is part of a package of measures we are taking, which includes making sure that the 1.3 million people who are not currently claiming their tax-free childcare, where they can get 20% of their childcare or up to £2,000 paid for them, or the childcare element of universal credit, do so. That will make a real difference to them, as well as the consultation—bearing in mind that the consultation is also about ensuring that we continue the drive for quality that this Government have delivered in the childcare system and that safety is paramount for every child.