Jeremy Hunt Stresses Continuation of Free Childcare Plan Amid Concerns

Jeremy Hunt announces tax rises and says UK in recession

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to providing 15 free hours of childcare for two-year-olds starting next month, asserting that the scheme remains “on track.” However, he acknowledged the inability to provide an “absolute guarantee” that all children would secure a place.

Describing the initiative as the most significant expansion of childcare in a generation, Hunt highlighted that children aged nine months and older would become eligible for up to 30 free hours of childcare from next year.

Critics of the policy, which carries an annual cost of £8 billion, have expressed concerns about the readiness of many nurseries to accommodate the expansion. Labour has warned that approximately 3,000 nurseries are at risk of closure, potentially jeopardizing 180,000 childcare places across England.

Ministers have rejected these claims, asserting that comprehensive assessments have been conducted in every local authority area to ensure sufficient capacity. However, they concede that not all parents may secure their preferred nursery and may need to explore alternative options.

In an interview with the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Hunt affirmed the government’s progress in implementing the significant changes to childcare provision. He acknowledged the potential need to recruit an additional 40,000 personnel in the sector and emphasized the phased approach to implementation.

When questioned about the readiness of the scheme for next month, Hunt refrained from providing an absolute guarantee but expressed confidence in the program’s delivery, stating, “Am I confident that we are delivering this programme and it will be on track for this April? Yes, I am.”

The policy will be gradually introduced, with working parents of two-year-olds gaining access to 15 hours of free childcare from April. This will be extended to working parents of children older than nine months from September, culminating in full implementation a year later.

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson criticized the Conservatives’ childcare promise, citing concerns raised by the National Day Nurseries Association suggesting that a significant portion of nurseries may not offer additional places for two-year-olds. Labour also highlighted survey data indicating potential nursery closures, further exacerbating the shortage of available places.

Phillipson argued that Hunt’s failure to guarantee parents’ access to promised childcare demonstrates a lack of effective planning, ultimately leaving working parents disillusioned with the government’s childcare commitments. She also criticized Hunt’s apparent reluctance towards the policy, perceiving it as an extension of the welfare state.