30 Free Hours Goes Live

Two and half years after it was first announced in the 2015 General Election, the government’s flagship childcare policy offering 30 free hours to working parents, 38 weeks of the year, has been rolled out. The policy has been the subject of fierce debate amongst providers who have consistently raised concerns about costs and capacity. Although successive childcare ministers (and there have been three since 2015) have said they hear the sector’s concerns, many are worried that the money available will not be sufficient. Yet, as the first reports start coming in, it does appear that providers are starting to offer the new entitlement.

It has not been an easy road to get here. The 2015 General Election feels like a long time ago now. At that point the polls were suggesting it was a closely fought battle with Labour and the Conservatives, neck and neck. Labour had begun the campaign with a policy of increasing the entitlement to 25 hours a week, and it was a shock when the Conservatives announced their 30 hours policy. There were immediate concerns about costs, with the spuriously low figure of £350 million being frequently cited. After the election it quickly became apparent that this would not nearly be enough and funds of an extra £1 billion a year by 2020 were announced.

There followed a limited pilot scheme in 2016, which got off to a rocky start when settings in York initially refused to take part unless the money on offer was increased. Their tactics worked and the offer was altered, but nationally, the industry still had considerable funding worries, particularly in London and the south-east. Now, with the national roll-out taking place and parents across the country asking for their entitlement, it remains to be seen whether the pilot was enough.

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