Keegan 'confident' government will deliver free childcare plan amid concerns from parents and sector

Credit: PA

The education secretary says she is "confident" the government will deliver its pledge to expand funded childcare for working families in England from Monday.

Gillian Keegan said the Government is “on track” to deliver the first phase of its rollout next week to 150,000 working parents of two-year-olds.

"We're working to make sure you have a funded place wherever you are in the country", Ms Keegan insisted.

Eligible families of children as young as nine months old in England will be able to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week by September 2025 under the offer.

Her comments come as many parents and providers have raised concerns about the rollout of the scheme.

Some childcare providers say they'll struggle to meet the requirements due to staff shortages in the sector, and many parents say they won't be able to afford their childcare bill even after the new funded hours.

Ms Keegan warned that the Labour Party could put the expansion plan "at risk", after Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said Labour would review the policy.

In an interview with BBC Newsnight, Ms Phillipson wouldn't commit to keeping the scheme if Labour come into power.

Asked whether Labour is planning to go back to the drawing board on the childcare expansion plan if it wins the general election, Ms Phillipson said the system “does require reform”.

Speaking on Wednesday, the education secretary said Labour is the “biggest threat” to the plan, suggesting Labour is planning to "cancel" the rollout.

She said: “It would be disastrous. If you want to talk about ill-thought-through policies, that’s what Labour have.”

A Labour spokesman said: “This is utter nonsense from a Conservative Party that still can’t guarantee parents the childcare it promised them with just days to go before the rollout of new funded hours.

“Labour will not take away families’ entitlements – we want childcare to be affordable, accessible and available.

“That is why the respected former Ofsted chief inspector Sir David Bell is leading a review of early education and childcare to ensure that all families can access the childcare to which they’re entitled.”

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt first announced the free childcare scheme in his 2023 spring Budget.

The scheme is due to be rolled out in three parts, with the first phase beginning on Monday April 1, as 15 hours of free childcare is offered to working parents of two-year-olds.

From September 2024 this will extend to children from nine months old, and from September 2025 the funded hours will double to 30 hours a week for eligible parents.

Currently, working parents with children aged three and four are eligible for 30 free hours of childcare.

If one parent earns above £100,000 the free hours decrease to 15 hours a week.

Mr Hunt has promised the funding for childcare providers will increase in line with inflation and staffing costs from next year.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance (EYA), said: “We have long argued that promising parents more and more ‘free childcare’ without tackling the fundamental issues facing the sector would simply exacerbate existing challenges and pile even greater pressure on providers.

“With early years settings already warning that the expansion plans are not workable in the long term, it’s clear that simply continuing along the current path – and ignoring the concerns of both the sector and parents – is not an option.

“Whichever political party is in power after the next election, we’re clear that a comprehensive review and wholesale reform of the entire early years system is desperately needed if we are ever going to be able to deliver the affordable, accessible, quality care and education that families need and deserve.”

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