Keegan: All parents will be able to access childcare under expanded offer

The Education Secretary has claimed all parents will be able to access childcare under the Government’s expanded offer, amid warnings many will miss out.

Gillian Keegan told MPs that Government projections show more than 150,000 new funded places will be secured by early April.

She replied “absolutely” when challenged by Labour to commit to guaranteeing that all parents in England will be able to access places.

As part of a staggered rollout of the policy, working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of free childcare from April.

This will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September.

Concerns have been repeatedly raised that many childcare providers in England will struggle to meet increased demand for funded places under the Government’s offer.

Speaking at education questions, Ms Keegan told the Commons: “We’re delivering the largest ever expansion of childcare in England’s history, which begins rolling out in just three weeks’ time from April 1.

“We’ve done this before, when we more than doubled the entitlements of the last Labour government, and I’m delighted to update the House that our latest projections show more than 150,000 new funded places will be secured by early April.

“We expect that number to grow further throughout the months ahead, saving parents over £550 million in childcare costs.

“April is just the first phase. From September, parents with children from nine months until they start school will be able to benefit from this support.”

“Now with just three weeks to go parents, providers and even their own civil servants are sounding the alarm.

“Over seven in 10 providers say they’re not going to offer additional places, a quarter say they’re likely to close within a year.

“So will the Secretary of State now guarantee that all parents will be able to access the childcare places that she promised?”

Ms Keegan replied: “Absolutely, and I set out in my topical statement, and we’re working with every local authority to ensure the places are available.”

She went on to claim Labour has “no plan” for childcare to which Ms Phillipson replied: “There’s one way we can find out what the public think and that’s by calling a general election.”

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Labour MP Stella Creasy (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

She said: “To the surprise of no-one who looked at what the Government is proposing, my inbox like many other MPs’ inboxes (is) now full of parents who cannot get the 15 free hours in April without paying a massive hike in their fees. And one group particularly struggling is parents of children with special educational needs or a disability.

“This is entirely predictable because the Government’s own impact assessment said explicitly that changing the ratios could have ‘negative impact on providing places for children with special educational needs’.”

She called on the minister to make a pledge to parents of children with Send “that they won’t have to pay a higher fee”.

Education minister David Johnston replied: “We are working with every local authority to make sure they have the places they need for all children.”

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