WORKING parents in Wigan will be the first to take advantage of 30 hours of free childcare from September.
The town has been named as one of eight pilot sites alongside Staffordshire, Swindon, Portsmouth, Northumberland, York, Newham and Hertfordshire, which will benefit from the decision to double the number of free hours of childcare available for three and four-year-olds.
This is fantastic news that parents will be able to benefit from free childcare a year before the scheme is rolled out nationally. By being a pilot area we can also influence how the system will be brought in nationally along with our partnership work with providers – something which we are experienced in as a former pilot area for supported childcare places for two year oldsCouncillor Jo Platt
The pilot will start in September and will be open to 450 children from families where both parents work a minimum of 16 hours a week. Currently all children receive 15 hours free early education and childcare a week the term after they turn three for 38 weeks of the year.
Councillor Jo Platt, portfolio holder for children and young people at Wigan Council, said: “This is fantastic news that parents will be able to benefit from free childcare a year before the scheme is rolled out nationally. By being a pilot area we can also influence how the system will be brought in nationally along with our partnership work with providers – something which we are experienced in as a former pilot area for supported childcare places for two year olds.
“The support for working parents also links in well with The Deal for the Future which is about encouraging growth across the borough and what many people need is affordable childcare options which gives them the chance to get into work without worrying about those care bills.”
The Government announced £13million to help the pilot areas prepare for the introduction of the expanded childcare allowance.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “For too long, rising childcare costs have been a barrier preventing parents and particularly mothers from working. That’s why I’m delighted that in just a few months’ time, we will see the first families benefiting from the Government’s offer of 30 hours’ free childcare for working parents.
“We have made a commitment to help working people, and through this extended offer we will help thousands more parents who want to return to work to do so.”
A further 25 local areas have been identified to help parents whose children have particular needs, such as disabilities, access the extended childcare when it is fully launched next year.
The National Day Nurseries Association’s chief executive Purnima Tanuku said: “We have stressed all along that for this initiative to be successful, all the funding must reach the childcare providers. This important issue must be examined within these pilots as a priority.
“If sufficient funding does get through to the front line, the sector will be able to deliver the high-quality early education that parents and children deserve. The forthcoming national living wage which will increase the average nursery payroll by 10% from April needs to be factored in when looking at the investment needed to make this work.
“We are pleased that, alongside the main pilot schemes, there will be early innovators in 25 council areas picking up on specific aspects such as caring for children with special educational needs and disabilities. This is a particular challenge for the sector to ensure that the provision is meeting the level of need for each child and is funded appropriately.
“They also need to look at capacity for delivering this ambitious plan and the difficulties facing nurseries regarding recruitment and retention of qualified staff.”
The additional 15 hours of free childcare is available for families where both parents are working, or the sole parent is working in a lone-parent family, and each earns at least the equivalent of 16 hours a week at the national minimum or living wage but less than £100,000 a year.
Shadow childcare minister Jenny Chapman said: “We welcome any extra help for childcare but this Government has a terrible record. Childcare costs have risen 30% since 2010 and the number of childcare places has fallen by over 40,000.
“One in three working parents promised free childcare by David Cameron at the last election will now miss out because ministers are unable to add up properly. Despite reducing eligibility by 200,000 families, the Government still has a half-a-billion black hole in their plans.
“With no strategy to raise the quality of childcare, and the sustainability of many childcare providers in doubt due to the shortfall, ministers must do better. The Tories’ pre-election rhetoric on childcare has failed to match reality and parents, children and our economy will pay the price.”