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Top Stories: Major Childcare Overhaul, Energy Price Guarantee Extended, Doctors On Strike

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will deliver his budget today. (Alamy)

3 min read

Major childcare support is set to be announced by the government today as Jeremy Hunt attempts to tackle the UK’s poor economic growth and economic inactivity in his Budget.

It is expected parents, where one parent is on up to a maximum of £100,000, will be given access to 30 hours of free childcare for one and two year olds, where previously the measure was only available from age three. 

The intervention, which is expected to cost £4bn, will be part of a raft reforms to encourage people back into the workplace. 

Other changes to childcare will include the removal of the five week wait for childcare support for those receiving extra help through Universal Credit, staffing childcare ratios increasing from 1:4 to 1:5, and a £500 bonus for new childcare workers.

Outside childcare, the government is also making significant changes to pensions to encourage over 50s to stay in the workplace instead of retiring early. 

Among reported reforms is the pension tax allowance rising from £1m to £1.8m, with the Treasury reportedly looking at increasing the £40,000 annual tax free pension allowance, too.

The chancellor will deliver his budget at 12.30pm today after Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).

Energy Price Guarantee extended for three months

The chancellor is expected to cancel a planned increase to energy bills in its Energy Bill Guarantee (EPG) today.

The EPG, which is currently capping the average yearly energy bill at £2,500, was set to rise next month to £3,000. 

The scheme was introduced as experts warned the Ofgem energy price cap would hit £3,549 in October 2022 – rising to £4,279 in January 2023.

Junior doctors strikingThe price of energy soared following an increase in demand as lockdowns ended across the world and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 – with Russia providing around 50 per cent of Europe’s gas supplies prior to the invasion.

However, despite the energy price cap, the average yearly bill is still 120% higher than it was 18 months ago.

The government’s decision to cancel the planned rise to £3,000 is a major victory for charities and activists who warned the £500 increase could drive many more people into fuel poverty.

Teachers, doctors, civil servants and Tube staff are on strike 

Teachers, junior doctors, civil servants – including Border Force, and London Underground staff are among those striking today.

Pay rises are at the heart of the disputes, with junior doctors calling for a 26% pay rise after more than a decade of wages declining in real terms.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has faced criticism over a campaign noting you can now earn more working as a barista in Pret A Manger than they do as a junior doctor.

The junior doctor walk out today will mark the third day of their historic strike action, with tens of thousands of NHS appointments cancelled.

The National Education Union (NEU) has also called for a pay rise higher than the 3 per cent rise put forward by the government for teachers in England for 2023/24 as inflation stays hovering around 10 per cent.

Teachers in Scotland in January accepted a deal which offered 7% wage rise backdated to April 2022, and a further 5 per cent this April and 2 per cent in January 2024.

London Underground staff are striking over a dispute concerning changes to working conditions and pension schemes which they claim hasn’t involved them in decision making.

And around 133,000 Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) members are also expected to walk out today – with a 10.1% inflation-busting pay rise among their demands.

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