The Liberal Democrats have announced manifesto plans to provide 15 hours free childcare every week for all two year olds.
Currently all three and four year olds and two year olds from the most hard pressed homes are eligible for 15 hours free childcare each week. The Liberal Democrats say they want to go further and that in the long term they plan to extend free childcare to all working parents from the end of parental leave. After this they would increase those 15 hours to the equivalent of 20 hours per week for all eligible families.
The plan, which is estimated to cost £2bn a year in the long term, would be paid for in part by scrapping the Conservative Party’s plans to introduce a tax break for some married couples, they say.
Liberal Democrat Business Minister, Jo Swinson MP said: “Helping families with the cost of childcare is part of the Liberal Democrat plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society where there is opportunity for everyone to get on in life.
“Extending free early years education to all two year olds will benefit children and reduce childcare costs for working parents. It builds on our record in government where we have expanded free early years education for every three and four year old and provided it for the first time to two year olds from the most hard pressed families.
“This is a ultimately a fundamental difference in values. Liberal Democrats want to help all families with childcare support and nursery education right the way through from the end of parental leave to the start of school. The Tories are more bothered about helping only some couples through a married couples’ tax break.”
Childcare groups have welcomed the announcement, but expressed concerns about how it would be paid for.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Preschool Learning Alliance, said: “All young children should have access to high-quality early education and care and this announcement is likely to be welcomed by families currently struggling with the rising cost of childcare.
“However, while we fully support the motivation behind these plans, unless more is done to tackle the chronic underfunding of the existing free entitlement offers, this initiative – though commendable in its aims – will simply not succeed in the long-term.
“Our recent Early Years Agenda survey of nearly 1,300 childcare professionals found that the funding currently given to early years providers offering two-year-old places is, on average, 60p per child per hour less than the cost of delivering these places. It’s this ongoing lack of adequate funding that has meant that, on the week of the extension of the scheme to 40% of two-year-olds, there is still a significant shortfall in available places in many areas.
“The current situation – where providers themselves are forced to subsidise free entitlement offers to be able to continue delivering places to the families that need them – is simply unsustainable. As such, it is vital that any steps to extend existing offers are only taken after those developing policy have gained a full and clear understanding of the true cost delivering funded places, and can ensure that the initiative can be adequately funded.”