- By Jennifer Harby
- BBC News
Currently, working parents with three and four-year-olds are eligible for 30 hours of free childcare per week but the government has said this will now be expanded to cover one and two-year-olds.
The plans are part of a government drive to encourage more people back to work – but what do parents think of the changes and will they have the desired effect?
‘I’ve been lying awake at night, worrying’
Practice nurse Ellie Duncan, from Darley Dale in Derbyshire, said she had seen the news overnight while she was feeding her four-month-old baby.
“I’ve had a spring in my step today,” she said.
“The thought of nursery fees and juggling that with my salary has been very difficult. I was already lying awake at night and worrying about it.
“It’s not really where you want your head to be when you are looking after a little baby.”
Ellie, 37, said she felt the news was “long overdue” and would have saved her family a fortune had the scheme been in place when she and her husband Mark had their two older children – now aged 10 and seven.
“Friends of mine have left the nursing profession due to the cost of childcare, particularly if they had more than one child under four years of age,” she said.
“In this case, it is often more cost-effective for a parent to leave their job and claim benefits.
“I know other nurses who work night shifts and then parent their young children all day – to the detriment of their mental and physical health.
“Others will work weekend shifts exclusively – losing time with their spouse and putting a strain on their relationship.”
However she said the timescale for the childcare support – which will not be fully implemented until September 2025 – was not as good as she had hoped for.
“We should still benefit from 15 hours free childcare from September 2024,” she said. “It is certainly an improvement on the existing provision and a step in the right direction for other working parents.”
‘I’m not sure how much difference it will make’
Stacey Sherwood, 34, a single mum of two from Braunstone in Leicestershire, said she has to work part-time so she can look after her two children.
“When I first heard the chancellor make the announcement I thought ‘That’s great’,” she said.
“But unfortunately, when you look at it in detail, I’m not sure how much difference it will make.”
Stacey currently works school hours, five days a week, as a sales administrator while her son, 10, attends school.
Her three-year-old daughter is at nursery three days a week and cared for by her parents on the other two days.
Although Universal Credit covers some of the nursery fees, Stacey said she had to find around £40 a day to cover the remainder – and that amount is set to increase.
“The nursery fees are due to go up £5 a day from next month, so that will be more money I’ll have to find,” she said.
Although Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said families on universal credit will get childcare support upfront instead of having to reclaim it, Stacey is not convinced it will change her circumstances much.
However, she welcomed the overall expansion of free childcare.
“I think it’s going to benefit a lot of mums who are going back into the workplace,” she said.
“Obviously with the kids being in nursery, they get to interact with kids their own age. My daughter’s speech is incredible for her age and I do believe nursery has helped with that.”
What are the changes?
The new help for parents will be introduced in stages.
Eligible working parents of two-year-olds will get 15 hours of free childcare per week from April 2024
Children between nine months and two years old will get 15 hours of free childcare from September 2024
All eligible under-fives will get 30 hours of free childcare from September 2025
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said: “Any support for parents to pay for childcare will be very welcome.
“It’s crucial that our youngest children have access to the benefits of high quality early education.
“However, the current system for eligible twos, and for all three and four-year-olds is unsustainable for childcare providers.
“In order for this policy to work, the government must address the current crisis of underfunding of three and four-year-old places and the huge recruitment and retention challenges.
“We need a proper long-term strategy to plan for sufficient capacity and workforce to deliver all these additional places.”