The chancellor gave his first Spring Budget on Wednesday, 15th March, against a backdrop of mayhem on the London Stock Exchange, which saw the worst day’s trading for over a year.
Fears over the state of the global banking sector sparked in turn by the collapse, and subsequent buyout of its British arm by HSBC have seen markets wary of any investments, with Credit Suisse, in particular, seeing record lows.
That said, Jeremy Hunt stepped up with a raft of plans to help boost the UK’s economy, but it was a subject closer to home that has seen most of the headlines.
£4 Billion Childcare Scheme
With the mounting costs of everyday living reaching an all-time high in the UK, there has not been too much for parents to be joyful about, as childcare, like all other sectors, has been hit hard by the rise in living costs.
With the average cost of sending a child under two to a nursery for 25 hours per week (part-time) has risen to £7,729 per year (52 weeks), compared to £7,212 in 2022.
The cost of nursery care has been a factor in parents who work full or part-time of the shortage in the employment market and was set to be an issue for the next few years.
The government has been under pressure from the opposition parties and childcare agencies to help working parents with more than they have already been entitled to.
Under the previous childcare scheme, vouchers were available for children over 3 years of age for 15 hours of free nursery care per week. This has now been changed so that working parents in England will be able to access 30 hours of free childcare per week, for 38 weeks of the year, from when their child is 9 months old to when they start school.
This will be rolled out in stages: From April 2024, all working parents of 2-year-olds can access 15 hours per week.
What Was Actually Said
Jeremy Hunt told the Commons: “I today announce that in eligible households where all adults are working at least 16 hours, we will introduce 30 hours of free childcare not just for three- and four-year-olds, but for every single child over the age of nine months.”
“The 30 hours offer will now start from the moment maternity or paternity leave ends. It’s a package worth on average £6,500 every year for a family with a two-year-old child using 35 hours of childcare every week and reduces their childcare costs by nearly 60%. Because it is such a large reform, we will introduce it in stages to ensure there is enough supply in the market.”
“Working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of free care from April 2024, helping around half a million parents.”
“From September 2024, that 15 hours will be extended to all children from 9 months up, meaning a total of nearly one million parents will be eligible. And from September 2025 every single working parent of under 5’s will have access to 30 hours free childcare per week.”
But Who Will Benefit From The £4 Billion Scheme?
Currently, all three and four-year-olds are entitled to a free part-time nursery education place for 15 hours a week, 38 weeks a year.
They qualify for 30 hours of free childcare if both parents earn the equivalent of at least 16 hours a week at the national living wage, which means the vast majority of working families qualify, although the very richest (those making more than £100,000 are not eligible).
The new plan will provide 30 hours a week to parents of one and two-year-olds and increase funding by £288m by 2024-25 for the existing free childcare programme for three-year-olds.
How Does This Affect My Child?
Currently, each carer can only look after four children in England, but that is set to rise to five, which is in line with Scotland in an attempt to make childcare cheaper.
Whilst the scheme financially benefits parents and their pockets, some have raised concerns about the quality of care each child will receive.
Nurseries have generally breathed a sigh of relief over the staffing numbers but are concerned about how the funding will affect them in the long run. Fears have grown about the number of nurseries that cannot afford this new scheme.
With an estimated 377 preschool and day nurseries in Oxfordshire, it is definitely going to be a time of testing for the county and its parents, children and nursery staff alike.
What Is The Aim Of The Childcare Scheme
It is hoped that the extra funds available to parents will boost the economy with the aim of getting parents back into full-time employment quicker than under the current voucher scheme.
It is estimated that the rise in back-to-work parents will see an increase in taxes and expenditure that should be a boost to the UK’s economy, but sceptics are wary of making any forecasts until the scheme comes into place in April 2024.
How To Claim
Suppose you are eligible for any of this new funding. In that case, it will come as a welcome relief, but finding out who is and isn’t eligible is going to be an individual process for all Oxfordshire residents.
This scheme will be in affect from April 2024 it is wise to plan ahead as if your child will be eligible from that date the application should be in place well in advance to avoid any backlog in the system.
It is estimated that 285,00 families will be able to sign up the new scheme in April 2024 with a further 320,000 becoming eligible in September 2024 so early application is essential.
All information on eligibility and the application process can be found on the official government website, and is easy to access for all as this website does have screen reader access for the blind.