Tory MP says 'absurd' you can be too wealthy for free childcare
A Conservative MP has defended the government's expected major expansion of free childcare in the spring budget and insisted parents cannot be too wealthy to receive support.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is set to extend the current provision of up to 30 hours a week of funded childcare in England for parents of three and four-year-olds to also cover one and two-year-olds.
Currently, all parents receive 15 hours free childcare per week for three and four-year-olds. Those who work at least 16 hours a week on the minimum wage and earn less than £100,000 are eligible for 30 hours.
The measure, which is intended to encourage people back to work, would mean parents earning higher wages would be entitled to the same free childcare package as those on much lower incomes.
Challenged by TalkTV host Julia Hartley-Brewer why a couple earning a combined £200,000 would need support, Tory MP James Sunderland defended the policy.
“Certain things have to be provided for everyone… We have to make sure people are incentivised to go back to work," he said
Hartley-Brewer responded that it would be “absurd” for people on average incomes of £30,000 helping to subsidise the childcare for someone earning three times what they earn.
Sunderland responded: “It’s not absurd… Where is the cut off? How do you say that somebody is too wealthy to be able to afford their own childcare?
“The NHS free at the point of need, its available to all. I think its the same provision for childcare…
“It’s absurd to say you’re too wealthy to get 30 hours of childcare for your children.”
'A welcome step'
Earlier this month, a report published by the charity Coram Family and Childcare found that the average annual cost of a full-time nursery place for a child under two in Britain is now £14,836.
Reacting to the plans in today’s budget, the charity said it was a “welcome step for parents struggling with childcare costs”.
However, they added that while it was a “game changer” for families struggling with bills of more than £14,000 a year, there is still only enough childcare for working parents in half of local areas.
They called on the government to invest in more support for the childcare sector.
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said earlier this month that Labour wanted to “move away” from the current system of free childcare provision, saying “bolting on” more hours would not solve problems of availability or affordability.
Paul Johnson, head of the independent economic think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said sweeping reform of childcare is needed.
He said: “Many will welcome extension of free childcare. Look for funding though – funding current entitlement has been cut 13% since 2017.
“As universal support has expanded, targeted support for children most in need has contracted. Whole system is hugely complex. Needs proper review.”
The expansion of free childcare and an extension in support for household energy costs are part of Hunt’s “budget for growth”.
One union has also backed the move, with Andy Prendergast, the GMB’s national secretary for commercial services, saying: “Anything on free childcare certainly helps. We have a situation where there are not enough people in the workforce.
“Many of our members who take maternity [leave] can’t afford to come back so the more childcare that is available is ultimately good for the economy, it creates jobs.
“I think the one real issue we have is a lot of those jobs in nurseries are very badly paid with bad terms and conditions and I think that has to be addressed.”