Clegg to make childcare pledge

Published: Thursday 19th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Working parents of very young children would be offered 15 hours of free early education a week, saving families about £2,600 a year, under Liberal Democrat plans, Nick Clegg will say today.

There would also be a universal entitlement to free childcare for all two-year-olds, potentially saving parents thousands of pounds each year, and a pledge to boost funding for poor pre-schoolers.

The Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister is due to outline his party’s plans for childcare with a speech in London.

It comes amid fresh concerns about the spiralling cost of childcare, with a new survey revealing that nursery costs for under-twos have soared by around a third in the last five years.

Mr Clegg is expected to reiterate the Lib Dems’ pledge to offer all working parents 15 hours of free childcare for all youngsters aged nine months to two years.

Under the current system, all three and four-year-olds in England, along with the poorest two-year-olds, are entitled to 15 free hours of early education a week.

Mr Clegg will argue that measures such as a £50 million early years pupil premium – extra cash for disadvantaged youngsters – are helping to ease the pressure of childcare costs on family budgets, and improving children’s chances in life.

“We want to build on that progress,” he will say.

“So, in the next parliament, the Liberal Democrats will start by providing 15 hours a week of free early years education to every family with a two-year-old.

“On average, this will save the families new to this offer the equivalent of £2,540 a year. And when we can, it’s ultimately our long-term ambition to increase the number of hours of free childcare government funds from 15 to 20 hours a week across the board.”

Mr Clegg will also say: “As today’s Family and Childcare Trust Survey confirms, with demand increasing, the cost of childcare is rising. In the Liberal Democrats, we recognise that pressure on working parents to budget for their childcare costs doesn’t just start when their child is two years old, and their entitlement to funded hours kicks in, but when their parental leave ends.

“In the next parliament, we are committed to help these families bridge that gap. That’s why the Liberal Democrats will make 15 hours of free early years education available to all working parents from the end of their paid parental leave at nine months right through until their child is two and the existing provision begins. On average, this will save working parents the equivalent of £2,670 a year.”

Lib Dem sources rejected suggestions that they were seeking to incentivise the mothers of young children to go back to work.

“It is totally up to the families involved to make those decisions,” a source said.

“Lots of people, I’m afraid, can’t afford to go back to work. There is an issue with people in this country who want to work – particularly women – and want to get back into the labour market when their children are very young but can’t afford to because of the costs of childcare.

“We are saying that should be a choice available to them. We are not here to make anybody’s decisions for them. Families make their own decisions based on what’s right for them.”

There will also be further support for parents through the roll-out of tax-free childcare, Mr Clegg will say.

Other policies include increasing the early years pupil premium to £1,000 per child, per year, and an ambition for every nursery to have a member of staff with qualified teacher status by 2020.

It is thought that all of the proposed policies would be introduced from 2018/19 onwards, after the Lib Dems’ deadline for clearing the deficit.

Around 400,000 children aged nine to 24 months could benefit from from the Lib Dem’s proposal, according to the party’s estimates, while 420,000 youngsters could benefit from a move to extend free hours to all two-year-olds.

The total cost of the childcare reforms, once all are introduced, is estimated to be £2.8 billion a year.

Published: Thursday 19th February 2015 by The News Editor

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