'Family man' Sunak insists he is committed to improving childcare

'Family man' Sunak insists he is committed to improving childcare

January 4, 2023

‘Family man’ Rishi Sunak insists he is committed to improving childcare for parents amid Tory revolt over decision to shelve plan for more free nursery time for working families struggling with soaring costs

  • Liz Truss has warned Rishi Sunak not to scrap her proposed childcare reforms
  • It comes amid growing concern among Tory MPs over its ‘unaffordable’ costs 
  • Ms Truss fast-tracked plans to offer more help to parents during her time as PM

Rishi Sunak tried to see off a growing Tory revolt over soaring childcare costs today as he played up the importance of family.

The PM is under increasing fire over a decision to scrap a plan to reform pre-school care to help parents afford places and return to work. 

He has axed proposals outlined by his brief predecessor Liz Truss to ditch mandatory staff-child ratios in nurseries, aimed at reducing overheads. 

Plans to extend free care for toddlers from 30 to 50 hours a week are also under review. 

Previous criticism was limited to supporters of Truss, but today backers of the PM himself urged action, including Education Committee chairman Robin Walker.

In a speech in east London this afternoon Mr Sunak insisted he was committed to improving the situation for hard-pressed families, saying ‘we need to support parents to manage the demands of modern workplaces without weakening the irreplaceable bonds of family life’.

Pressed later by reporters, he added: ‘I talked about part of modern families today (being) making sure we can balance between work life and family life and childcare is obviously an important part of that.

‘The government and I are completely committed to ensuring good availability and affordability and flexibility of childcare. 

The PM is under increasing fire over a decision to scrap a plan to reform pre-school care to help parents afford places and return to work 

He has axed proposals outlined by his brief predecessor Liz Truss to ditch mandatory staff-child ratios in nurseries, aimed at reducing overheads. Plans to extend free care for toddlers from 30 to 50 hours a week are also under review

Robin Walker, the chairman of the education committee who backed Mr Sunak for the leadership last year, today said there was ”strong case for intervening further’.

At the same time former minister Dame Andrea Leadsom warned that the issue of childcare could be a key battleground at the next election.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, and comparing spending to that in other countries, Mr Walker said it has been increased a ‘great deal over the last decade’ on three- and four-year-olds, but added ‘we spend far, far less on the twos and under’ compared with other countries.

Speaking about support for early years, he said: ‘I think there is strong political support for doing more in that space, but we haven’t yet seen the money flowing through.’

And he said the tax-free childcare policy ‘is only reaching about a third of the people it was designed to’, saying the funding there ‘isn’t currently making the difference that it could’.

‘There’s been a number of recent think tank reports… on looking at the costs and impacts here, which I think do show that there is a strong case for intervening further to support families. And it needn’t necessarily all come at extra cost to the Treasury,’ he said.

And in an interview with Politics Home, Dame Andrea warned that a failure to act could hammer the party at the next election.

‘I think it’s a major, major battleground issue for the next election, and I want every Conservative to have on their pledge cards ‘we have delivered the best start for life programme’,’ she said.

‘We have a problem with younger voters, we have a problem with particularly young female voters.’

It came after Ms Truss warned her successor not to scrap her proposed childcare reforms.

It comes amid growing concern among Tory MPs over the ‘unaffordable’ and spiralling costs that parents face.

During her short stint as prime minister, Ms Truss fast-tracked plans to offer more help. A third of women say childcare costs have forced them or their partners to consider quitting work.

During her short stint as prime minister, Liz Truss fast-tracked plans to offer more help. A third of women say childcare costs have forced them or their partners to consider quitting work

A source close to Ms Truss told The Times: ‘Excessive bureaucracy is making childcare in England increasingly unaffordable. Junking Liz’s plans for this critical policy area seems economically and politically counterproductive.’

And Kit Malthouse, education secretary under Ms Truss, urged Mr Sunak to ‘push the go button as soon as possible’ on the former PM’s proposals.

He said: ‘The current system is a complicated Heath Robinson affair that means no one, parents or providers, is happy.

‘It’s fundamental for economic growth that parents are supported in work and my team and I had formed up a ‘childcare big bang’ plan to do just that.’

UK parents spend around 26 per cent of joint income on childcare against a 9 per cent average in other developed nations. But the issue has slipped down Mr Sunak’s list of priorities amid crippling strikes and record numbers of Channel migrants.

English parents with children aged three to four can get 30 hours of free childcare a week. The Times says Mr Sunak is considering extending this to all two-year-olds rather than Miss Truss’s 50-hours proposal. Currently only parents on benefits get free care for children at two.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We’re certainly continuing to review all options to improve the cost, choice and availability of high-quality childcare for working parents.’

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