Spring Budget 2023: free childcare policy is a ‘smoke and mirrors announcement’, says Sadiq Khan

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The Mayor of London has said the childcare announcement will not help the poorest children as many families will not qualify for the scheme.

The free childcare policy unveiled in the government’s Spring Budget is a “smoke and mirrors announcement”, the Mayor of London has told NationalWorld.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday (15 March) announced that the government will offer 30 hours of free childcare for all children from the age of nine months, if their household is eligible. To be eligible, all adults in the household need to work for at least 16 hours each week.

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“The 30 hours offer will now start from the moment maternity or paternity leave ends,” Hunt told the House of Commons. “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%.”

But Sadiq Khan has slammed the new policy as “not actually helping parents and children” - since many of the poorest families will not qualify for the free childcare. He also argued that there will be huge difficulties in implementing the system, as the money the government has invested is less than half of what providers requested.

Khan told NationalWorld: “I’m worried that the government has embarked on a smoke and mirrors announcement, instead of providing proper support for families to have affordable childcare, as countries all around the world do.

The free childcare policy unveiled in the government’s Spring Budget is a “smoke and mirrors announcement”, the Mayor of London has said. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorldThe free childcare policy unveiled in the government’s Spring Budget is a “smoke and mirrors announcement”, the Mayor of London has said. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorld
The free childcare policy unveiled in the government’s Spring Budget is a “smoke and mirrors announcement”, the Mayor of London has said. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorld | Mark Hall / NationalWorld

“When you speak to providers, they say the money they need to do this is £9 million. The government has announced £4 million - which clearly won’t be enough. When you speak to parents, they say the requirements are a real barrier. You see, some people need childcare to get a job - so without that free childcare initially, they can’t get the 16 hours needed to qualify.”

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This also becomes an issue for parents trying to change career paths, he added, as they lose access to free childcare while they are not working.

Charities have raised similar issues with the eligibility criteria, with the Sutton Trust reporting it means only 20% of the poorest families will qualify. The charity’s research and policy lead Becky Montacute said: “There are many reasons families could miss out, one being if a parent is studying.”

“This is really bad for helping parents re-train and upskill,” she continued, “as they will lose eligibility if they study.”

Khan also argued that there is a “childcare desert” in certain areas, due to providers closing down. This means that even if parents have free childcare, many can’t access it - which, he said, is an issue the government needs to address.

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“What a lack of childcare does,” he continued, “is hold back parents - particularly mums, as women get penalised - from going back to work. I speak to families who say I could work, but my wages only cover childcare - so what’s the point?

“If the government was sensible, they would adequately invest in childcare because it means more people joining the workforce, which means more people paying taxes, which means more money to improve the country.

“It’s a policy that brings in money for the government so I’m unclear why, instead of announcing a decent, comprehensive policy, they’ve announced this one - which is all smoke and mirrors.”

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