The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, has warned that parents on zero-hours contracts could miss out on the government’s election pledge of 30 hours a week of free childcare, as it emerged that fewer than half the families who receive the existing 15 free hours will qualify.
David Cameron made the 30 hours a week promise a key thrust of the Conservative party’s 2015 general election campaign, outflanking Labour’s offer of 25 hours a week, as the Tories sought to win over female voters.
In the party’s manifesto, it said: “Our commitment to you – bring in tax-free childcare to support parents back into work and give working parents of three- and four-year-olds 30 hours of free childcare a week.”
However, it has subsequently emerged that “working parents” means only those who earn “the equivalent of 16 hours working at either the national living wage per week for those aged 25 or over, or the national minimum wage for those aged 24 or under”. The highest-earning families, where at least one parent earns £100,000 or more, will also not qualify.
Rayner, the Labour MP for Ashton, said the minimum earnings requirement would be problematic for low-income families in insecure employment, or on zero-hour contracts, who may be unable to guarantee how many hours of work they will get from one month to the next.
“I know what it’s like to bring up kids when you’re trapped in low-paid, insecure work and support for childcare is a lifeline,” she said. “Now the government is pulling that lifeline away. It’s a slap in the face for parents who are stuck in zero-hours contracts and just want to get on and get by.”
A government spokeswoman said families would have to reassess every three months whether their income and employment qualified them for the extra hours of childcare.
In an answer to a parliamentary question from Rayner, the junior education minister Caroline Dinenage said the government expects that of the 910,000 families that currently received the 15 hours a week, more than half (520,000) would not be entitled to the extra help.
Rayner said: “Thirty hours of free childcare was a flagship pledge in the Tories’ election manifesto, but now we discover that most working families and children will lose out. David Cameron promised no new grammar schools, more spending on every pupil and 30 hours free childcare for working parents. Theresa May is now breaking every one of these pledges.”
The scheme is being piloted but is due to be rolled out nationwide later this year. Some childcare providers have warned that it would increase pressure on them, as the funding the government offers does not fully meet the costs of nursery care.
A recent poll by the Family and Childcare Trust found that only a third of local authorities believed there would be enough places to meet demand when the new entitlement comes into place in the autumn.
Theresa May has insisted that working families who are “just about managing” are at the centre of her bid to create what she has repeatedly called “a Britain that works for everyone”.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are investing more in childcare than any previous government, spending a record £6bn per year by 2020 – this includes an additional £1bn per year on our free entitlements to support families with the cost of childcare.
“The new 30 hours free childcare care offer will help working families by reducing the cost of childcare and supporting parents into work or to work more hours should they wish to do so.”
Source: The Guardian