Jeremy Hunt admits £4billion childcare package couldn't start now due to dearth of staff and nurseries

16 March 2023, 18:56 | Updated: 16 March 2023, 20:02

Jeremy Hunt has admitted that the childcare support package announced in the Spring Budget - which won't start until 2024 - couldn't have been implemented any earlier due to shortages of staff and nurseries.
Jeremy Hunt has admitted that the childcare support package announced in the Spring Budget - which won't start until 2024 - couldn't have been implemented any earlier due to shortages of staff and nurseries. Picture: LBC / Alamy

By Chris Samuel

Jeremy Hunt has admitted that the childcare support package announced in the Spring Budget - which won't start until 2024 - couldn't have started any earlier due to shortages of staff and nurseries.

The Chancellor announced a £4billion expansion of free childcare for one and two-year-olds in Wednesday's budget in a bid to get parents back to work.

The plan is believed to include around 30 hours a week of childcare for parents in England with children in that age group, and there could also be an increase in funding for the current childcare programme for three-year-olds.

But the package isn't set to come into effect until next year, with 15 hours of free childcare for all children over nine months set to be offered from September 2024.

Andrew Marr pointed out that despite the fact that the policy has been welcomed by the public, it's calculated that no child who would be affected by the announcement has yet been born.

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Asked whether the support could have been brought in earlier, Mr Hunt said: "Well, the issue is this is the biggest change in childcare provision I think in my lifetime.

Andrew Marr reacts to breakthrough in negotiations and Spring Budget

"We're going to need many more nurseries, many more childcare providers, and many more child minders.

"If you get pregnant now, by the time your maternity leave finishes, then the offer for 9-month old children will be kicking in.

"If you have a one-year-old, by the time your child is two, then the offer for two-year-olds will be kicking in, but we need to do it in a staged way because we need to massively expand provision."

It comes after a report by the Centre for Progressive Policy found that more than half of the mothers struggle to find suitable childcare.

One quarter, equivalent to one and a half million mothers in the real world, said if they had access to suitable childcare they would work more hours.

Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street with the budget despatch box to present his Budget speech in the House of Commons on March 15, 2023.
Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street with the budget despatch box to present his Budget speech in the House of Commons on March 15, 2023. Picture: Getty

The research estimated that this would result in an increase in economic output of £27billion per year, or 1 percent of GDP.

It's hoped the package will help to boost productivity by getting parents back in work.

When pressed on the subject of childcare provision over the weekend, Mr Hunt said: "We would like to help everyone. It's expensive to do it. You can't always do everything at once."

But the Chancellor has come under pressure in recent weeks to act on childcare, which is seen to be among the most expensive in the world.

The Chancellor appeared on Tonight with Andrew Marr on Thursday
The Chancellor appeared on Tonight with Andrew Marr on Thursday. Picture: LBC

Labour has promised to completely overhaul the British childcare system, labelling it "broken", with Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves telling LBC's Iain Dale that her party would back a "serious" overhaul of the system.

"I can assure you if there is a serious package from the Chancellor tomorrow, we will support it because we know the system is broken," Ms Reeves told LBC.

"We know it is a massive barrier for parents to go back to work - the number of parents, especially mums, who have said to me 'it doesn't even make sense for me to go to work because every penny that I'm earning after tax is going to someone else to look after my children."

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