Chancellor’s comments highlight future childcare reforms

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has signalled the Government’s intention to focus on bringing forward reforms to improve access to affordable, flexible childcare.

Sector organizations were quick to respond saying that the Chancellor’s comments suggested that the Government was pressing ahead with ratio changes.

However, the Department for Education confirmed to Nursery World that it was still considering responses to the childcare consultation on the plans, which closed on 16 September.

The DfE said that as the chancellor has confirmed, the department would be taking forward reforms to improve parents’ access to affordable, flexible childcare, which remains a major government priority.

The DfE said it would set out more detail on these plans in due course.

Delivering the Mini-Budget today, chancellor Kwaski Kwarteng said, ‘There are too many barriers for enterprise. We need a new approach to break them down and that means reforming the supply side of our economy. Over the coming weeks my cabinet colleagues will update the house on every aspect of our ambitious agenda, those updates will cover the planning system, business regulation, childcare, immigration, agricultural productively and digital infrastructure. ‘

During the debate that followed, Helen Hayes, Labor’s shadow early years minister, highlighted that, ‘This year, for the first time ever, the number of women aged 25 to 34 leaving the workforce to care for children is going up.

‘Why does the Chancellor think that bearing down with punitive sanctions on the lowest-paid working parents in part-time work will help them to increase their hours, when what they really need is an accessible, affordable childcare system fit for the 21st century? ‘

In The Growth Plan 2022 (also called the Mini-Budget) published today on the Treasury website, stating, ‘The UK has some of the highest quality childcare provision in the world, but it is also one of the biggest costs facing working families today and a barrier for people remaining in the labor market. The government will bring forward reforms to improve access to affordable, flexible childcare. ‘

‘Ridiculous plan won’t cut costs’

Commenting on the reference to government plans for reform of the early years sector, Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said, ‘Given that the responses to the recent consultation on ratios are apparently still being reviewed, it is incredibly concerning that the government is already suggesting that it will go ahead with its relaxation plans.

‘The government has sold this policy as a remedy to the cost-of-living crisis, when in reality, it will do absolutely nothing to cut costs for parents. Instead, this ridiculous plan risks compromising the quality of education and care that children receive at a time when they need more individual care and attention than ever, not to mention putting their basic safety and wellbeing in jeopardy.

‘What’s more, it will heap even more pressure on the early years workforce, driving even more highly-skilled educators away from the sector, at a time when the early years is already struggling with the worst recruitment and retention crisis in recent history.

‘Let’s be clear: deregulation is the worst possible step the government could take at the worst possible time for the early years sector. We know – and the government knows – that the only way to address rising costs is to properly fund the sector, but instead ministers see fit to waste time on a policy that doesn’t benefit anyone except the politicians who can claim to be “tackling rising childcare costs “.

‘We urge the government to rethink this foolish direction of travel before the impact on our vital sector becomes not only catastrophic, but irreversible.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said, ‘The Chancellor referenced the cost of childcare and bringing forward plans for reform. But we have to recognize that the UK has one of the lowest levels of investment per child in early education. The cost of childcare for families cannot be addressed without changing this underlying fact.

‘Current proposals of tinkering with ratios will not achieve the unrealistic savings the Government has promised to parents and will heap more pressure on a stretched workforce. Our sector is facing a workforce crisis and without the right staff nursery cannot provide the high-quality early education and care that is vital for their development. ‘

This article was amended on 23 September to provide more clarity.

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