30 Hours to be Extended to 1 and 2 Year Olds in England

Infant Baby Playing With Stacking Colourful Building Blocks While Sitting On Carpet In House

30 Hours to be Extended to 1 and 2 Year Olds in England

At the centre of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget was a huge package of changes to the childcare system. Most notably, an extension of the 30 hours entitlement to 1 and 2 year olds. While the introduction will be phased, not commencing until next year, with the full roll out not concluding until 2025 this is a seismic shift that some estimates say will mean the government paying for more than 80% of the country’s childcare. There are serious questions about how feasible this policy is, particularly with respect to funding, but it also represents childcare’s ongoing ascension to the heart of the economy.

It is almost a decade since a report by the then Family and Childcare Trust made headlines by highlighting the cost of childcare to parents. This, in tandem with other campaigns, kickstarted a political cycle that led Labour to pledge 25 ‘free’ hours for 3 and 4 year olds in the 2015 General Election, only to be trumped by the Conservatives’ offer of 30. At the time, most predicted the election to result in another hung parliament and a coalition, so it is by no means clear the Conservatives expected to have to implement their pledge. However, with David Cameron’s surprise win, they were committed.

From the childcare sector’s point of view, the trouble with the policy was that parents appear to be the primary stakeholders, rather than providers, or indeed the children themselves. This, providers believe, means that valid criticisms, specifically around funding shortfalls and the consequences for the quality of provision have not been listened to. There are, of course, huge advantages to increasing parental access to childcare, from increasing the available workforce to easing the cost of living, but the childcare sector’s role is much more than that. The benefits of early education to children are now better understood than ever, and it is their welfare and futures that are at stake.

The new policy was announced by the Chancellor, and while its aims may be economic, its impact will go much further. If the government wants to get it right, it will be critical that it really listens to childcare sector professionals.