Tory MP Says It's "Crazy" To Only Offer Free Under-Twos Childcare To The Poorest
Childcare policy is shaping up to be a key battleground at the next election (Alamy)
Former cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom has described the current government policy of only offering free childcare to children under two to parents in “extreme deprivation” is "crazy"
Leadsom told PoliticsHome’s The Rundown podcast that free childcare should be made “flexible for the needs of parents” and called on MPs to work cross-party to reform the sector.
Under current rules, all children in England are entitled to 30 hours a week free childcare from the age of three.
Free childcare is available to children from the age of two, if their parents are in receipt of certain benefits, or if they are looked after by a local authority.
The cost of childcare has been thrown back into the political spotlight, following reports that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was planning to push back or ditch changes to childcare policy proposed by his predecessor Liz Truss.
The former prime minister had discussed scrapping mandatory staff-child ratios in nurseries and increasing the hours of free childcare support every week with the aim of bringing down the astronomical cost of childcare.
Leadsom is currently the government's Early Years Healthy Development Adviser. Childcare "budgets" were a central pillar of Penny Mordaunt’s Conservative leadership campaign last summer, which Leadsom ran.
The Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire said that having a child is “absolutely a revolution in your life,” but that parents then face the challenges of paying for childcare.
“We need to make the free childcare flexible for the needs of parents. It's crazy that you can't get any free entitlement unless you're in extreme deprivation until your child is two," she explained.
“So for many young families, if there are two partners working, invariably they're both back at work within six months, and that's when childcare is at its most expensive.”
Leadsom has spearheaded the government’s Family Hubs policy, centres established in 75 local authorities across the country to help support families and young children. She said that the policy focus should not be “just about the very earliest bits of childcare”, but also look at how to help people who have taken some time off to be with their baby attracted back into the workplace.
“So much talent goes by the wayside,” Leadsom added.
“So it seems to me that flexible working – but also making sure that businesses who want to keep all of that largely female talent – puts in place arrangements so that they can do that.”
Childcare is likely to be an important policy area for both the Tories and Labour in the lead up to the next election, as they consider what will appear in their manifestos.
Leadsom has previously told PoliticsHome that childcare is likely to be a "major, major battleground issue for the next election" and that she would like "every Conservative to have on their pledge cards ‘we have delivered the best start for life programme’".
Labour is promising to give all families access to high quality, affordable childcare, according to the party's website, while shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has previously said that the sector would be “completely transformed” if the party goes into government.
Leadsom believes that there is “definitely” scope for MPs on both sides of the Commons to work together, and praised the previous work of cross-party colleagues who she described as "totally committed to the best start for life for every baby".
“In terms of childcare, I think there will be different nuances. I understand Labour are looking at universal childcare, but they're not necessarily looking at quality and ratios and so on."
"I hope there will continue to be cross-party support for this."
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