The Department for Education (DfE) continues to look at ways to improve the cost, choice, and availability of childcare, and to encourage families to use their full entitlement of government-funded support. At the Spring Budget 2023, the Chancellor announced a revolution in childcare that will extend 30 hours of free childcare for every child over the age of 9 months, with support being phased in until every single eligible working parent of under-5s gets this support by September 2025.
The Government will also pay the childcare costs of parents on Universal Credit moving into work or increasing their hours upfront, rather than in arrears – removing a major barrier to work for those who are on benefits. The maximum they can claim will also be boosted to £951 for one child and £1,630 for two children – an increase of around 50 per cent.
The DfE has spent over £3.5 billion in each of the past three years on its early education entitlements and intends to continue this support. In the 2021 Spending Review, the Government increased funding: £160 million for 2022/23, £200 million for 2023/24, and £170 million for 2024/25, compared to the 2021/22 financial year. This allows local authorities to increase childcare providers' hourly rates and reflects cost pressures and changes in the number of eligible children anticipated at the time of the Spending Review.
For 2023/24, the DfE is increasing the minimum funding floor for the three- and four-year-old rate to £4.87 per hour, with all local authorities receiving at least a 1 per cent increase. There will be a maximum increase of 4.9 per cent for the three- and four-year-old rate and up to 10 per cent for the two-year-old rate.
There will also be an additional investment of £10 million in Maintained Nursery School supplementary funding, with a minimum hourly rate of £3.80 per hour and a maximum hourly rate of £10 for all local authorities in 2023/24, with special arrangements for the most affected local authorities.
Regarding parental leave, maternity leave entitlement in the UK is one of the most generous in the world, with employed women entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, of which 39 are paid. New fathers are eligible to take two weeks of paid paternity leave within the first eight weeks following the birth or adoption placement. Eligible employed fathers also have other entitlements to balance work with childcare, including paid annual leave, unpaid parental leave and the right to request flexible working. Shared parental leave allows eligible parents up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in the first year.
In recent years, the Government has consulted on reforming both parental leave and pay, and the legal framework to request flexible working (where employees can request a change to their hours, pattern or place of work). In its response to the consultation on making flexible working the default, the Government announced changes including making the right to request flexible working a "day-one" right and allowing two statutory requests for flexible working in any 12-month period (rather than one).
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.