Child Care Costs

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:30 pm, 24th March 2014

What assessment he has made of the effects of the cost of child care on parents who want to work.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

According to the recent Family and Childcare Trust survey, the cost of child care in England has started to fall in real times for the first time in 12 years, whereas in Scotland, the cost of nurseries has gone up by 8% and in Wales, which is run by Labour, the cost of nurseries has gone up by 13%. That is because the Government are reducing red tape and enabling good providers to expand.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

That was pure fantasy. One of the best and most effective child care solutions for working parents is Sure Start. Is the Minister ashamed that 600 Sure Start centres have closed under the Government and that some Tory councils, such as Hammersmith and Fulham, have cut their budget by half?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has got his figures wrong. In fact, Sure Start provides fewer than 4% of places. In London, which he represents, 45% of early-years places are in school nurseries. I suggest that he joins the Mayor of London’s programme, which he is running with me, to encourage school nurseries to open for longer hours. What the hon. Gentleman says about children’s centres is absolute nonsense. We have increased the investment in those as well.

Photo of Nick de Bois Nick de Bois Conservative, Enfield North

Unfortunately, the expansion of free places has resulted in the headmaster of Carterhatch children’s centre in Enfield asking fee-paying parents to take their children out of the centre to make way for those who are on the new scheme. What advice does the Minister have for the headmaster, who has chosen to discriminate against working parents, and for the parents who are fighting to keep their children at the centre?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We are working with London providers and local authorities to get them to expand the number of places. We have made it easier for private sector providers to expand without planning red tape, and we have made it easier for good and outstanding providers to expand without red tape. We also want to see school nurseries and children’s centres open from 8 am to 6 pm to provide flexible child care.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Shadow Minister (Education)

We welcome the fact that finally families will receive some much needed help in meeting their child care costs. However, does the Minister accept that by the time the tax-free scheme comes into effect in 2015, the support that families have already lost plus the increases in costs over this Parliament will mean that the vast majority of families will still be worse off? Can she also tell the House what assessment she has made of the impact on price inflation, given the chronic shortage of places?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I do not think that the hon. Lady heard my first point, which was that prices are falling in real terms in England for the first time since the Family and Childcare Trust study began. Under Labour, they went up by 50%. On Thursday, I visited the excellent Medlock primary school in her constituency, which offers places to two, three and four-year-olds. Staff told me of their plans to open from 8 until 6 to provide parents with more care. That is happening across the country—

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Interruption.

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I hear what the hon. Lady says. At present, most nurseries in Manchester are open from 9 to 3. If they opened from 8 to 6, that would be more than 60% extra.