Labour would not reduce entitlement to free childcare, senior figure says

Nick Thomas-Symonds said Labour would not cut the childcare ‘entitlement that parents have been promised’.

A nursery warned that it could be ‘forced to go bus’ under the Government’s expanded childcare offer
A nursery warned that it could be ‘forced to go bus’ under the Government’s expanded childcare offer (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Labour would not reduce the new entitlement to free childcare if it became the next Government, a senior party figure has insisted, after shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson suggested she would review the scheme.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, a shadow Cabinet Office minister, said Labour wanted to ensure “places are available” for parents to make use of the expanded offer of funded childcare for working families in England.

The scheme came into effect on Monday April 1, with working parents of two-year-olds now able to access 15 hours of Government-funded childcare.

This will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September this year, before the full rollout of 30 hours a week to all eligible families a year later.

Ms Phillipson told the BBC’s Newsnight programme at the end of March that Labour would not commit to the £4 billion plan, after commissioning a review of childcare led by former senior Ofsted figure Sir David Bell last October.

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, warned that a Labour victory at the general election could put the offer “at risk”, as a result of the review.

But Mr Thomas-Symonds insisted this was not the case.

He told Times Radio: “The entitlement that parents have been promised, we will not reduce if we are privileged to form the next Labour government.

“The point that Bridget Phillipson was making, and this is why we are making this point to the Government today, is just because you introduce an entitlement doesn’t guarantee that the places are available.

“That is what we are urging the Chancellor of the Exchequer who announced this scheme last year to do today, actually make the

entitlement a reality.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow minister without portfolio, criticised the Government
Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow minister without portfolio, criticised the Government (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

Labour has published a dossier about “childcare chaos” which includes testimonials from parents and nurseries across England, and brands the Government’s scheme a “childcare pledge without a plan”.

Some parents complained of high costs and extra fees to pay while others reported 18-month waiting lists at some nurseries, the dossier said.

One nursery warned that it could be “forced to go bust” under the Government’s expanded offer.

In March last year, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that eligible families of children as young as nine months old in England would be able to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week by September 2025.

Ms Phillipson said: “After 14 years of Tory failure, it will be Labour who get on with the job and finally deliver the much-needed childcare for parents.

“That is why we have commissioned respected former Ofsted inspector Sir David Bell to lead a review on early education and childcare to guarantee early years entitlements for parents.

“Only Labour will reform our childcare system and deliver the accessible, affordable early years education that will give children the best start in life.”

But Education Secretary Ms Keegan said Labour “still have nothing to offer” on childcare, as the scheme was rolled out.

Ms Keegan added: “This is simply a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that they would pull out the rug from tens of thousands of hardworking families adding on average £6,900 to the costs of childcare.

“Families across the country are now facing uncertainty caused by Labour. Keir Starmer should provide clarity for families who are making decisions about their futures.”

Childcare representative group the Early Years Alliance warned the Government that “simply promising ‘more free childcare’ is meaningless if you’re not willing to invest in the infrastructure needed to deliver it”.

Neil Leitch, its chief executive, added: “Ministers have made a big promise to parents.

“Only by providing the support that the sector needs will they be able to keep it.”

Joeli Brearley, founder of the Pregnant Then Screwed (PTS) charity, said: “The Government seems to be in denial about falling childcare places.

“This research proves what we’ve been saying all along – we are increasing demand whilst supply dwindles. Ultimately this means some families will not be able to access the new entitlements.

“The thing is, we need a credible plan, and right now there isn’t a single political party who has that.”