Free 15 hours of childcare expands to two-year-olds as Rishi Sunak insists he is delivering on pledge

2 April 2024, 11:56 | Updated: 2 April 2024, 12:00

The first parents in England have benefitted from 15 hours of taxpayer-funded care for two-year-olds.
The first parents in England have benefitted from 15 hours of taxpayer-funded care for two-year-olds. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Emma Soteriou

Rishi Sunak has insisted he is delivering on his childcare plan as the first parents in England begin to benefit from 15 hours of taxpayer-funded care.

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The PM said the plan would "build a brighter future for families and help to grow our economy", but Labour has said that families will struggle to access places.

The policy, which came into effect on Monday, is the first phase of a plan to expand funded childcare for working parents.

Officials said the number of parents taking up places will initially be in the "thousands" but that is expected to grow by "tens of thousands" in the coming weeks.

The offer will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September this year, before the full rollout of 30 hours a week a year later.

The government has said it is confident that the childcare sector is ready to deliver the offer and make sure parents have the childcare they need.

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Gillian Keegan on extended childcare 'teething troubles'

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: "Some people may not get their first choice or they may not have the particular place they want but we – or local authorities more precisely - are making sure all over the country that there’s a sufficient number of places within their area.

"Now, of course, you’ll get some teething troubles but this is a demand led system and we're already delivering this for more than a million working families.

She added: "You’ll always find one parent that hasn’t got the place they want – that’s fair enough – but when you’ve got millions of families and 150,000 this week who are getting access to places, in the big picture, we’re aware that sufficiency of places is highly important."

Mr Sunak said: "Last year we promised the biggest ever expansion in childcare provision this country has ever seen, and today we are delivering on our plan with 15 hours of free childcare for parents with two-year-olds.

"We want to give working families the peace of mind that they will be supported and our full expansion will save parents £6,900 a year, helping to build a brighter future for families and help to grow our economy."

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari is joined by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan | 02/04/24

But Labour published a dossier about "childcare chaos" including testimonials from parents and nurseries across England.

Some parents complained of high costs and extra fees to pay, while others reported 18-month waiting lists at some nurseries.

One nursery warned that it could be "forced to go bust" under the government's expanded offer.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: "After 14 years of Tory failure, it will be Labour who get on with the job and finally deliver the much-needed childcare for parents."