Calls for working parents in Wales to be given the same childcare support as in England
Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter
The Senedd debated two petitions calling for working parents in Wales to be offered the same childcare support as in England.
The UK Government announced plans as part of the 2023 spring budget to provide working parents of two-year-olds 15 hours of free childcare a week from April 2024.
UK ministers aim to expand this in stages to 30 hours a week for all eligible working parents of children aged nine months to three years by September 2025.
Jack Sargeant, who chairs the petitions committee, said the petitions – submitted by Jade Richards and Madelaine Hallam – collected a total of more than 11,000 signatures.
Mr Sargeant raised Oxfam’s warning that childcare costs are forcing Welsh parents into poverty and deterring them from having more children.
The Labour MS for Alyn and Deeside also highlighted a Senedd equality committee report, entitled Minding the future, on the childcare barrier facing working parents.
He warned a significant number of people in Wales are unhappy with the offer and roll-out.
Mr Sargeant said: “Any of us across the chamber will have conversations with constituents who really need support and feel frustrated by the speed of change.
“This will include people who just live a street away from neighbours who are receiving support through Flying Start, yet they receive no support at all.
“The petitioners have said to me they are not against the premise of Flying Start and the idea of Flying Start, but they do question how it’s delivered in practice.”
Joel James, for the Conservatives, raised the disproportionate impact of childcare duties on women, saying: “This has a big impact on their finances.
“Not only are they dependent on the sole earner but they lose out on pension contributions, and this has a big impact in retirement, more so if the couple are unmarried and split up.”
The South Wales Central MS told the chamber that the UK Government offer will trigger £180m of consequential funding for Wales.
Sioned Williams, for Plaid Cymru, said the childcare offer in England will not be available to every child and family and it would only span 38 weeks of the year.
During the debate on January 31, she called for any consequential funding from childcare spending in England to be used for the same purposes in Wales.
Ms Williams stressed: “This is a crucial matter in terms of tackling the shameful levels of child poverty and inequality that scar our communities.
She highlighted a Bevan Foundation report, which was published the same day and found that 70% of parents whose youngest is under ten say childcare is unaffordable.
Sarah Murphy described the introduction of a new offer in England as shambolic, saying: “You can’t put out an offer like this without the infrastructure.”
But the Labour backbencher warned that the UK has the worst childcare offer in Europe as a whole with many countries having a more comprehensive, cheaper offer.
Arguing that childcare should be seen as critical economic infrastructure, she raised the example of Canada’s $30bn investment in a universal childcare offer for $10 a day.
The Bridgend MS called for an honest conversation about future funding for childcare.
Labour MS Jenny Rathbone, chair of the Senedd’s equality committee, raised concerns that disabled children do not have fair access to education and childcare.
Julie Morgan said Welsh ministers are looking to provide more support for disabled children.
The deputy minister for social services argued Wales has one of the most generous offers in the UK, covering 48 weeks and including parents in education or training.
Ms Morgan warned that promises to families in England will fall well short of expectations.
She said: “It’s all very well to say you’re going to do something but in order to do it, you have to have the places, you have to have the workforce and you have to work jointly.”
Vowing not to take any shortcuts, she said the Welsh Government will not compromise on staffing ratios nor qualification requirements.
She pointed to a commitment, under a deal with Plaid Cymru, to deliver a phased expansion of early years provision to include all two-year-olds, with a focus on the Welsh-medium offer.
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