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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Tory MP Tells Jeremy Hunt To Put "Positive And Practical" Childcare Measures In Budget

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, pictured in January 2023 (Alamy)

4 min read

Conservative MP Siobhan Baillie has urged Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to consider “positive and practical” childcare measures ahead of the upcoming Spring Budget, as the government faces pressure from within their own ranks to reform the “expensive” and “complex” system.

Baillie has pledged to keep raising the issue of expensive childcare in the UK with No 10 and the Treasury ahead of the budget, which is scheduled for 15 March, and will not rest until she sees “progress”. 

The average price for a full-time nursery place for a child under two, the age group for which parents receive no government support, costs around £14,000 a year in the UK, with costs rising in London, according to the 2022 Childcare Survey by children’s charity Coram

“I really want parents to hear the Chancellor talking about childcare at the Spring Budget,” Baillie told PoliticsHome.

Baillie, who represents Stroud, said she knows that Hunt "cares about this issue, as does the Prime Minister" and is one of a growing chorus of Tory MPs who believe it will form a key campaign issue at the next election as their party strives to win back younger voters hit by the cost of living crisis. 

“There are some positive and practical measures that can and should be done swiftly, particularly to support the hard working childcare sector,” she explained.   

Childcare is regularly raised as an issue by MPs on both sides of the Commons, citing concerns about the cost. It is believed that making it more financially accessible would help parents and carers to continue working. 

It was thrown back into the political spotlight earlier this month following reports that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was planning to shelve 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.

Earlier this month, former Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom told PoliticsHome that giving families the best start is a “major major battleground issue” for the next election. 

“We have a problem with younger voters, we have a problem with particularly young female voters,” she explained, and said she wants “every Conservative to have on their pledge cards ‘we have delivered the best start for life programme’” the next time the country goes to the polls. 

Leadsom’s intervention came after a report published by centre-right  thinktank Onward in December described the country’s childcare set up as “expensive, inflexible and complex”

They made five recommendations on improvements that could be made, including reforming parental leave schemes, and creating a new system of childcare credits to be paid monthly, which they say would “radically simplify the market and empower parents.” 

In a statement to accompany the report’s release in December, Baillie said that MPs “have to pay attention” to concerns being raised over the system. 

“World class childcare is not only about giving children the best possible start to life,” she said. 

“It is vital to support parents and carers during what can often be a stressful and yet wonderfully rewarding time of life. 

“It is an essential part of helping these parents back to work and fulfil their full potential”. 

Former children’s minister Edward Timpson said the childcare system is “inflexible, complex and expensive” when he asked Sunak at Prime Minister’s Questions last week to recommit to addressing the problems. 

The Prime Minister said he is “considering new plans to improve the cost, choice and affordability of childcare” and pointed to the existing programmes which provide free nursery hours for three and four year olds. 

A spokesperson at the Department for Education said: “We are currently looking into options to improve the cost, flexibility, and availability of childcare – ensuring that any plans we bring forward focus on improving outcomes for children.

“To date, this Government has doubled the offer for 3 and 4 year olds; introduced 15 hours free childcare a week for disadvantaged two year olds; and people on universal credit can claim back up to 85 per cent of their childcare costs. 

“Over the past five years we have invested more than £20 billion to support families with the cost of childcare.”

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