A multi-billion dollar expansion of free childcare for one- and two-year-olds is set to be unveiled in Wednesday’s budget.
The plan is to provide 30 hours a week of childcare for parents in England with children in this age group.
Funding for the current three-year-old program is also expected to increase.
The move would come amid continuing concerns about childcare costs, broader cost-of-living challenges and inflationary pressures.
While full details of the possible expansion will follow in the Chancellor’s announcement. such a move would align with Jeremy Hunt’s hopes of getting more people back to work as part of a broader attempt to spur growth.
Pressed about childcare over the weekend, Mr Hunt said: “We would like to help everyone. It is expensive. You can’t always do everything at once.”
But the chancellor has come under pressure in recent weeks to tackle childcare, which is said to be among the most expensive in the world.
Labor has vowed to completely overhaul Britain’s childcare system, describing it as “broken”.
Nursery providers in England have raised concerns about underfunding, complaining about a lack of government investment.
Currently, all families aged three and four are eligible for 15 hours of free childcare per week for 38 weeks.
Households may qualify for 30 hours of free childcare per week if parents earn the equivalent of 16 hours per week at the national minimum living wage rate.
Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said “the devil is in the details” in any plan.
“We know from difficult experience that what may seem like an impressive investment in theory may turn out to be completely inadequate in practice, so we understand exactly how this announcement will translate into changes in the hourly rate of financing, especially in light of the extension of the offer for one- and two-year-olds will be the key to understanding the impact on the sector,” he said.
James Bowen, policy director of NAHT’s union of school and nursery leaders, said: “While we will have to look into the details, if the government raises the hourly rates of funding for early childhood settings, it would be welcome news.
“We know that the funding terms they currently receive from the government are woefully inadequate and many providers simply cannot afford to operate at this level.”
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Tax Studies, said many would welcome any announcement.
However, he warned on Twitter that “the whole system is extremely complex.”
“As universal support has expanded, so has targeted support for children most in need,” he wrote.