The government will fund 30 hours of free childcare a week in England for kids aged nine months to four years, Jeremy Hunt announced today.
Here’s how the Treasury says it will work.
Right now, eligible parents of three and four year olds get 30 hours of free childcare a week, for 38 weeks a year.
Parents are eligible if they work more than 16 hours a week* and neither they nor their partner earns over £100,000. (There are some further criteria relating to immigration status and whether children live with their parents, which are set out in more detail on the government website.)
The arrangements for three and four year olds won’t change.
But from April next year, the scheme will also cover two year olds, who’ll get 15 hours a week of childcare.
And from September 2024, that 15 hours will extend to babies over nine months.
Finally, by September 2025, all eligible families with kids aged nine months to four years old will get 30 hours of free childcare a week, 38 weeks a year.
The chancellor says the eligibility criteria will stay the same as they are under the current arrangements for three and four year olds.
The aim of the scheme is to encourage more parents (and grandparents) back into work.
The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tank said today that the expansion “should help tens, but not hundreds, of thousands of parents into work – provided that it is appropriately funded”.
Though the announcement has had a mixed reception from campaigners at the Women’s Budget Group (WBG). The organisation’s director, Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson said it was a “really important first step”. But, she said, “it is still far short of the full-time, year-round provision working parents need to juggle full-time work, including parents doing shift work and weekend working”.
*Update, 16 March: Parents must earn the equivalent of 16 hours a week on the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage, or more than that, on average through the year.