What is the plan for 30 hours of free childcare and how will it work?

Child playing at nurseryImage source, Getty Images

The UK has some of the world’s most expensive childcare.

The government has announced more help for some parents.

Who will get 30 free hours and when will it start?

In the Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the current system which provides 30 free hours of childcare per week to some families will be extended to cover all children aged 9 months or above.

The expansion will apply to households in England where both parents work, and will be phased in:

  • April 2024: eligible 2-year-olds will get 15 hours of free childcare per week
  • September 2024: qualifying children aged between 9 months and 2 years get 15 hours
  • September 2025: eligible children aged between 9 months and 3 years get 30 hours

What other changes to childcare were announced?

  • the hourly rate paid to childcare providers who deliver free hours care will increase
  • the 700,000 families on universal credit will get childcare support upfront, instead of having to claim it back
  • the current £646-a-month per child cap which people on universal credit can claim for childcare will increase to £951 for one child, £1,630 for two
  • a £600 incentive payment for people who sign up to be childminders (£1,200 for those who sign up through an agency)

Each staff member in England will also be able to look after five two-year-olds instead of four, as is already the case in Scotland.

When the reduction was first proposed, the government said it could save parents up to 15% – about £40 a week for a family paying £265 per week for 50 hours of nursery care.

However, at the time, the Early Years Alliance – which represents about 14,000 childcare providers in England – said it risked “severely compromising the safety and quality of care” and would put more pressure on workers.

The chancellor said childcare providers can maintain current staffing ratios if they wish.

Mr Hunt also announced the government would work with local authorities to ensure all schools in England will be able to offer wraparound care between 08:00 and 18:00 by September 2026.

Who can get free hours childcare now and how does it work?

In England, all three and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week in term time, or 38 weeks a year. Free hours can be used in some private nurseries or state-run pre-schools.

At the moment two-year-olds in England can also have 15 hours of free childcare under certain circumstances, for example if the family receives universal credit.

Free hours are available the term after the child reaches the relevant age.

What other help with childcare costs is available?

Under the tax-free childcare scheme, the government pays £2 for every £8 families contribute, up to a maximum of £2,000 per child per year (£4,000 for disabled children).

The money can be used for approved childcare including childminders, nurseries, nannies, and after-school clubs. It can be used alongside free childcare hours if parents qualify for both.

To be eligible, a parent and their partner each need to earn (on average) at least £152 a week but less than £100,000 a year.

Parents under 20 in England, who are at school or sixth form college, can also receive weekly payments under the Care to Learn scheme. They can get £160 per child a week if they live outside London, or £175 inside the capital.

How expensive is childcare across the UK?

It depends on the age of the child, the number of hours and the type of care they receive.

The UK’s relatively strict “carer-to-child” ratios mean the younger the child, the more expensive the childcare.

The average cost of full-time nursery (50 hours a week) for a child under two in Britain is nearly £15,000 a year, according to the charity Coram. The cost of a childminder for equivalent care is nearly £13,000.

How do UK childcare costs compare to the rest of the world?

The UK is the third most expensive country for childcare among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), behind Switzerland and New Zealand.

Its figures are based on a family with two children aged two and three attending nursery for at least 40 hours a week, taking into account state support.

How do childcare costs affect women?

Researchers say the lack of affordable childcare forces many women to work part-time, or stop work entirely.

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