'Pledge without a plan': Labour slams government over free childcare rollout

The first phase of the government’s expanded offer of funded childcare for working families in England has come into effect

Labour has accused the Conservatives of having a “childcare pledge without a plan”, as it said families are still struggling to access places ahead of the government’s expansion of funded childcare.

The party pointed to an analysis of Ofsted data that suggests the number of childcare places fell by more than 1,000 between March and December last year, ahead of an anticipated increase in demand for places.

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, is calling on the chancellor to guarantee that eligible parents will not lose out on places as a result of the Conservatives’ “blotched” childcare pledge.

Her plea came as the first phase of the government’s expanded offer of funded childcare for working families in England came into effect.

As part of a staggered rollout of the policy, which started on Monday, working parents of two-year-olds are now able to access 15 hours of government-funded childcare.

This will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September this year, before the full rollout of 30 hours a week to all eligible families a year later.

The party has published a dossier about “childcare chaos” which includes testimonials from parents and nurseries across England.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

Some parents complained of high costs and extra fees to pay, while others reported 18 month waiting lists at some nurseries, the dossier found.

One nursery warned that it could be “forced to go bust” under the government’s expanded offer.

In March last year, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that eligible families of children as young as nine months old in England would be able to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week by September 2025.

The dossier from Labour said: “The Conservatives’ childcare pledge without a plan announced at the 2023 Budget is threatening to crash the childcare system just like the Conservatives crashed the economy.”

Ms Phillipson said: “After 14 years of Tory failure, it will be Labour who get on with the job and finally deliver the much-needed childcare for parents.

“That is why we have commissioned respected former Ofsted Inspector Sir David Bell to lead a review on early education and childcare to guarantee early years entitlements for parents.

“Only Labour will reform our childcare system and deliver the accessible, affordable early years education that will give children the best start in life.”

The education secretary said last week that the government was “on track” to deliver the first phase of its rollout to 150,000 parents of two-year-olds.

Gillian Keegan warned that the Labour Party could put the expansion plan “at risk” if it wins the forthcoming general election, as she added that cancelling the policy would be “disastrous” for parents.

Ms Keegan added: “On the day that the Conservative government is delivering the biggest ever expansion in childcare provision, Labour still have nothing to offer.

“This is simply a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that they would pull out the rug from tens of thousands of hardworking families adding on average £6,900 to the costs of childcare.

“Families across the country are now facing uncertainty caused by Labour. Keir Starmer should provide clarity for families who are making decisions about their futures.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…