Plans to increase free childcare clear Commons depsite concerns over funding

Flagship Conservative reforms to extend free childcare to 30 hours per week have passed through the House of Commons despite claims the provision is underfunded.

The Childcare Bill delivers a Tory manifesto commitment that will double free hours from 15 to 30 hours for 38 weeks a year – a total of 1,140 hours of childcare a year.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan (pictured) insisted the commitment was properly funded, with more than £1 billion promised every year from 2019/20 onwards and a “significant” increase in the per hour rate to £4.88 for three and four year-olds, and £5.39 for two year-olds.

Both parents or a lone parent must work at least 16 hours a week at minimum wage to receive the entitlement, while parents earning over £100,000 each will not qualify.

The Bill passed its third reading in the Commons unopposed after two Labour amendments were defeated at report stage.

But the Government promised to look again at giving domestic violence victims longer to find work and keep receiving the extra childcare if they have had to leave employment to escape their abuse.

Ministers promised to look at extending the three month grace period after Labour’s Jess Phillips (Birmingham Yardley) raised concerns.

Meanwhile, opening third reading, Ms Morgan said: “This represents a substantial commitment to childcare by this Government and this commitment is backed up by the investment and the funding that it requires.

“As the Chancellor announced in the Autumn Statement and I confirmed straight afterwards at the second reading debate we will be investing over £1 billion more per year by 2019/20 to fund the free entitlements.

“This includes £300 million for a significant increase in the hourly rate paid to providers, delivering on the commitment the Prime Minister made during the general election campaign.”

Ms Morgan also said she is confident childcare providers will be able to deliver the new entitlement.

“We are lucky to have in this country a thriving childcare market which is well placed to begin delivering the 30 hours entitlement,” she said.

But Labour claimed there was a funding black hole of £480 million up to the 2020 election in entitlements for three and four-year-olds – up to £470 for every child each year.

The number of eligible children was revised down from the 630,000 to 390,000 when the £100,000 upper income limit was introduced but shadow education secretary Lucy Powell claimed low income families would also lose out.

She said: “The detail of this policy and the Government’s legislative approach has not been the best.

“Ministers have failed to give us confidence and give parents and the House confidence that their plan to extend the free hours is deliverable, affordable and sustainable.

“Even now, so many months since it was announced, we are none the wiser on how these extra hours and the necessary expansion of places will be found, funded and facilitated.”

The Bill will now pass to the Lords where peers will consider amendments made at committee stage in the Commons, before becoming law.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.