ANGRY parents say they feel ‘let down’ after the recent Budget announcement promising 30 hours of free childcare for under 2s won’t start until April 2024.

In the Spring statement announced today, Wednesday, March 14, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt laid out the Conservative Government’s plan to extend the offer of 30 hours free childcare currently in place for over 3s to those aged nine months to under 5.

But when?

However the plans, he explained, would come in in stages with 15 free hours a week for two year olds from April 2024, then 15 free hours a week for children aged nine months to three years old from September 2024 then for 30 free hours a week to by implemented for children aged nine months to school age (five) from September 2025.

READ: St Helens mums speak of tough career choices as childcare costs soar

This welcomed news of support has left many parents shocked as the support will come into place well after their toddler aged children would have been eligible for the 30 free hours for those aged three and up.

The average maternity leave ends around nine to ten months, meaning working parents are left with more than two years of childcare payments, which due to the cost-of-living crisis is rising.

Inflation is piling the pressure of the costs faced by nurseries and The Early Years Alliance has reported that 99 per cent of childcare providers in the UK that the government isn't giving the early years sector enough financial support. Some providers being forced to close due to the financial strain.

What parents have to say

The Star reached out to parents across St Helens and three mums have shared their stories.

A mum of two, whose youngest child will have turned three before the first implementation of the budget comes in in April 2024, said: “By the time these changes come in it won’t help us with my daughter.

“I’m glad this is happening obviously, future parents don’t need to go through what we have but all these promises have left me feeling let down.”

Another mum, from Eccleston, who is pregnant with her second child, added: “I will be ok with my next child as this will have started then, but I now won’t be able to keep my son in nursery when my maternity leave kicks in, so I’ll have to risk him losing his nursery place as I’ll have to keep him home.

“We couldn’t cope otherwise, all these promises and it won’t help those already with little children struggling now.”

Another mum, said: "I think the budget doesn't go far enough. There is a childcare funding crisis NOW.

"We have one of the worst childcare systems in Europe in terms of funding.

"It will take a lot more than this announcement to get us on par with Europe.

"It's also not clear how it will be funded and given nurseries already struggle with the shortfall left from the current 30 hours free, I'm not sure how it will work.

"I'm a mum of a two-year-old, husband and I have good, professional, jobs but we can only afford to send our daughter to nursery two days a week.

"We're planning baby no 2 and we might have to drop down to one day whilst I'm on maternity leave.

"Which we really don't want to have to do, as nursery is more than just childcare it's early years education and she loves it."

What do the MPs think?

Marie Rimmer MP for St Helens South and Whiston, said: “Anything that makes it easier for working people to pay for childcare is a good start. For far too long the Conservatives have turned their backs on parents. For thirteen years they have done nothing to help working parents. Even with this announcement, it is not introduced in full until 2025. That will be almost fifteen years too late.

“The reality is that the childcare sector is in chaos. Most nurseries are losing the qualified staff that do an excellent job looking after children.

“They cannot afford to keep them. If the Government is serious about this plan, then there needs to be adequate funding for childcare providers so they can have the well-trained staff to offer the free childcare. Free childcare is worth nothing if parents cannot access it.”

Conor McGinn, MP for St Helens North added: “We need to see the details of this policy but any measures to support families is welcome.

"We know that childcare costs are a huge factor in preventing women from returning to work, but quality of providers and availability of hours is also an issue.

"We are lucky to have some excellent childcare providers in St Helens and I will engage with them on how this policy will be practically implemented locally”.

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