David Cameron forced into free childcare climbdown as systems faces ‘meltdown’ – Mirror.co.uk
Plans to offer parents 30-hours free childcare have unravelled with David Cameron admitting the roll could take longer than planned.
The PMâ€™s climbdown came after experts warned the rushed expansion could plunge the childcare system into â€œmeltdownâ€.
Downing Street had said that free childcare for three and four-year-olds would be doubled to 30 hours a week for working parents from September 2016 – a year earlier than planned.
But Mr Cameron was forced to accept it would â€œtake timeâ€ to bring in the new arrangement.
â€œIt is going to take time to get this right, because obviously we need an expansion of the childcare sector.
â€œWe need them to expand and so we are going to start talking to them immediately about what is the best way of making sure they are being paid properly for the level of childcare they provide,â€ he said.
There was also confusion over whether the Government would cut child benefit from Â£20.70 for the first child to Â£13.70.
A No 10 spokeswoman said there would be no changes to the benefit in the first two years of the Parliament but refused to rule out that the benefit could be cut after 2016.
However, Downing Street later announced there would be no cuts to child benefit for the whole of the Parliament.
The Pre-School Learning Alliance, which represents 14,000 childcare providers, warned the existing 15 hours a week of free childcare is already â€œgrossly underfundedâ€ by the Government.
Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said at least Â£354 million in additional funding would be required to deliver the Governmentâ€™s plans – a 20% increase on the Â£3.88 an hour currently available per child.
He said: â€œWe have long warned that the existing schemes are significantly underfunded, leaving providers and parents to make up the shortfall.
â€œGiven that the childcare extension plans have been costed at just Â£350 million a year – a figure that our research suggests is around a quarter of what is actually needed – we are concerned that the Government is still significantly under-estimating the scale of the existing funding shortfall.â€
He added: â€œI think this is crunch time, I think there will be a meltdown.
“You will see more and more providers withdrawing from the system and that will undermine and just railroad the entire policy.â€
â€œI think we are at breaking point with just the 15 hours. Extend that to 30 and you will see a different position altogether.
â€œThere are many nurseries that canâ€™t physically extend their number of hours. They may operate in a church hall or community centre.
“Nobody has considered whether in fact they will be able to offer the 30 hours.â€
Sarah-Jane Butler of the organisation Parental Choice said parents should not be misled by the Governmentâ€™s announcement.
â€œI think the idea makes a good headline but even now the 15 hours of childcare available is not exactly free as nurseries and child-minders canâ€™t provide the quality and safety parents and children deserve for the amount the Government provides.
“So parents shouldnâ€™t be misled. There will still be costs to pay,â€ she said.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said ministers needed to explain urgently where the money would come from to pay for the additional free childcare.
â€œDavid Cameron must not try to pull the wool over parentâ€™s eyes again by making promises without the funding to deliver, and cutting the child benefit and tax credits parents depend on to pay their childcare costs.
â€œSo far all the Government has promised is Â£350million for 30 hours of free childcare for 3&4 year olds – yet that is just Â£600 a child, and far less than Labourâ€™s funded plans.
“Childcare providers are right to call him out on it,â€ she said.
Employment Minister Priti Patel refused to say how the expansion would be funded until after she had conducted a review.
â€œI will be chairing a Government-led taskforce on the delivery of this and we will be working with providers on the point about funding, to review the overall funding model, so that we can bring an uplift to the hourly rate for childcare entitlement which strikes the right balance,â€ she said.