UK unveils new childcare policy
To alleviate cost-of-living pressures on families, UK Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt announced on Wednesday that most working parents in England will be offered 30 hours of free childcare for their under-five children.
The policy, which is part of the government's tax and spending plans unveiled in the budget, will eventually apply for 38 weeks of the year, beginning when a child is nine months old and ending when they reach the age of five.
It is part of a slew of childcare initiatives aimed at getting more women back into — or staying in — the workforce after having children, while also better funding the sector.
Childcare costs in the United Kingdom are among the highest in the 38-nation OECD, accounting for nearly a third (29%) of a family's income, compared to only 9% in France.
"We have one of the most expensive systems in the world," Hunt told lawmakers as he presented his budget.
"For many women, a career break becomes a career end," he continued, noting that nearly half of non-working mothers said they would prefer to work if they could arrange appropriate childcare.
The new 30-hour provision will be phased in and brings it in line with childcare policy in Scotland and Wales, where devolved governments in Edinburgh and Cardiff set childcare policy.
From April of next year, all parents of two-year-olds who work at least 16 hours per week will be able to access 15 hours per week.
It will be extended to the same eligible working parents with children aged nine months to three years old beginning in September 2024, with a further extension a year later.
According to Hunt, the package is worth an average of £6,500 ($7,844) per year for a family with a two-year-old child who uses 35 hours of weekly childcare and would cut their childcare costs by nearly 60%.
Other new measures announced include piloting incentive payments of up to £1,200 for new childminders and increasing funding paid to nurseries that provide free childcare.
Minimum staff-to-child ratios for two-year-olds in England will also increase from 1:4 to 1:5, mirroring the situation in Scotland.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of parents receiving "Universal Credit" benefits may have their childcare costs paid for upfront rather than having to be reclaimed.
The government is also aiming for all schools in England to provide so-called wrap-around care for children on either side of the school day by September 2026, according to Hunt.
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