How childcare support for struggling families will be at heart of Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Budget

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing to unveil his Budget next week. Credit: HMT

Rishi Sunak is preparing to place support for childcare and early years at the heart of his Budget and Spending Review next week, ITV News understands.

The chancellor and prime minister have both been persuaded that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life – from conception to their second birthday – are critical and require more support.

The prime minister commissioned the former Conservative cabinet minister, Andrea Leadsom, to write a review on this period - as she has long argued that the first two years of a child’s life is key. 

Spending on childcare can also help parents back into the workplace in a boost for the economy, with one minister telling me that lack of access to childcare represents a “huge cost of living issue” and also stops work progression.

Research also shows that access to quality daycare for the poorest children can greatly improve their life chances.

Labour argue that the Conservatives have neglected early years by stripping back Sure Start centres - and say that removing the uplift in Universal Credit will hit young families. 

Tories argue that Sure Start failed to attract enough of the most vulnerable families and instead point to a network of so-called family hubs, which is currently far smaller than the system is replaces. 

The idea of the hubs is to place multiple services onto one site, including ones typically used by the poorest families so that they are more likely to walk through the door. 

Cristina Odone, head of family policy at the Centre for Social Justice, has argued that the network of family hubs should be expanded and even suggests getting people to register births within them, because 98% of people do that - and could then be directed to support services on the same site. 

She told ITV News: “If the Spending Review invests in the Early Years, we‘ll know that the government has learned the lessons of lockdown: parenting is a public health issue.

"What happens in that first period, when the brain is developing, is crucial."

But critics argue that the hubs are no different to Sure Start and are much smaller. John McTernan who was political secretary to Tony Blair tweeted: “Obviously [the Conservatives] want a different brand for similar but smaller service. More importantly, child poverty is biggest danger in first 1000 days yet UC [universal credit] stays cut.”