Government Drops Major Childcare Reforms
The short-lived Truss government could not be called timid. Elected by the right wing of the Conservative Party, Truss promised major reforms in every sector, including Childcare. Whispers began that she was planning anything from a massive expansion of free hours to the complete abolition of regulation. Unfortunately for her, the dramatic economic changes she promised swiftly brought an end to her premiership and swept her rival Rishi Sunak to power. Sunak, promising in turn a sensible, sustainable governing style, immediately walked back his predecessor’s economic agenda and began reviewing the rest of her policies. Yet, even as late as the week before Christmas, it was generally thought that some major childcare reforms might still go ahead.
It now appears that this is not the case. Earlier this month the government quietly announced that it would be dropping the planned reforms, both to regulation in the form of ratios and any notion of expanding access to free hours. The rationale, it seems, is that with the country facing serious economic peril, now is not the time for sweeping reforms. However, the decision has many MPs, on both sides of the house of commons worried. Childcare, in common with education, health and the justice system, is widely considered to be under unsustainable pressure, and with the cost of living crisis really starting to bite, for many people, it is a particularly visible problem.
So, the question now is whether the reforms will be put back on the table. There is widespread support for doing something to decrease childcare costs for parents, but the Treasury are unlikely to want to bear the significant costs this would incur. With the Tories significantly behind in the polls, it is also possible that Sunak will wait until the next election before making concrete proposals, aiming to ape David Cameron’s use of childcare policy as a vote-getter. Whether the system can wait that long for reform though remains to be seen.