Hartlepool mum challenges Rishi Sunak on childcare policy as government expands free hours

The Prime Minister faced questions on the government's childcare policy during a visit to a Hartlepool nursery

Rishi Sunak was put on the spot at a North East nursery as a mum challenged him on the government's expanded childcare policy.

The Prime Minister was visiting Hartlepool's Aldersyde Day Nursery when a mum questioned him about Tuesday's rollout of 15 hours of free care for eligible two-year-olds.

Challenging Mr Sunak, the mother-of-two said: “The fear is while you’re putting these systems in place, nurseries are struggling.

"The fear is that we will lose another one in the town because it doesn’t feel like the system has the foundations right."

The woman, who said her children were two and three, added: “We’ve been hit, it’s been quite expensive for the first two years.

"Maternity pay is low so you’re already paying off that money and you’re paying £1,800 a month for two kids."

Rishi Sunak was in Aldersyde Day Nursery, in Hartlepool, to mark the beginning of the 15 hours of taxpayer-funded care for two-year-olds. Credit: PA

Mr Sunak said this was exactly the problem this new initiative was designed to fix.

He said: “Your point is right, we need to take time to invest in the sector, to expand the number of places, because it’s such a big change.”

Another parent joked that, with three children at the nursery, “it should have come earlier”.

The Prime Minister said: “When we announced it last year, people said ‘why don’t you do it straight away?’ but, actually, it’s such a big change, we needed to make sure we had time to train more people to work in the sector, and expand the places.

“It’s not the kind of thing you can do overnight.”

Mr Sunak told reporters at the nursery: “This is a really positive week for the expansion of our childcare offer – to support families, giving them the choice of how best to juggle childcare and their career.

“We’re moving towards a system where working parents will have 30 hours of free childcare from the time that maternity leave ends at nine month for their little ones, all the way to four years, when they start school.”

He said: “I’ve been talking to families for whom that’s going to make a big difference.

“We’ve fully funded the programme and increased the rates that we’re paying to nurseries, making sure that there are more childcare places available, more childcare staff available, and the future looks bright.”

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The policy, which came into effect on Monday, is the first phase of a plan to dramatically expand funded childcare for working parents.

Officials have said the number of parents taking up places will initially be in the “thousands”, but that is expected to grow by “tens of thousands” over the coming weeks.

The offer 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 Government has said it is confident that the childcare sector is ready to deliver the offer and make sure parents have the childcare they need.

Labour 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 the anticipated increase in demand for places.

The Prime Minister was answering questions from reporters on Tuesday. Credit: PA

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said at the weekend that the Government was “on track for more than 150,000 children to take up government-funded places”.

She added: “Support with childcare costs has an enormous ripple effect, freeing up parents to increase their hours at work and put more money in their pockets, or giving them the security to try out a new career or passion.”

However, Labour published a dossier about “childcare chaos” including testimonials from parents and nurseries across England.

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 it could be “forced to go bust” under the Government’s expanded offer.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said at the weekend: “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.”

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