5. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve childcare support. (S6O-02049)
In 2023-24, we will invest around £1 billion in the delivery of our funded early learning and childcare offer. Scotland is the only part of the United Kingdom to offer 1,140 hours a year of funded early learning and childcare to all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds, and we are progressing plans to expand the childcare offer in Scotland by expanding free early learning and childcare to one and two-year-olds starting in this parliamentary session with children who will benefit most. We have already started to design and deliver funded school-age childcare services in targeted communities across Scotland as part of our commitment to building a system of school-age childcare and to fund it for those on lowest incomes.
Last week’s United Kingdom budget certainly caught out leadership hopeful Humza Yousaf, who tried to pass off a plan to give 22 hours of free childcare a week to one and two-year-olds as a new announcement. In fact, that promise was made by the Scottish National Party before the 2021 Holyrood election. That was two years ago, and the SNP is no closer to honouring that pledge, while the UK Government will start rolling out free childcare in April next year. Will the minister commit to using the extra funding from the UK budget to match and accelerate the UK Government’s childcare offer for nine-month to two-year-olds?
As I said in my initial answer, we are progressing our plans to expand the childcare offer in Scotland to one and two-year-olds starting in this parliamentary session with the children who will benefit most, and it was good to see that the UK Government has finally caught up with the importance of investing in childcare, which is critically important to children and families and essential to our economy.
Ministers will look carefully at what consequential funding is available to Scotland as a result of the budget. My understanding is that it will be very limited—only around £20 million.
As the minister says, provision in Scotland is currently way ahead of anything that the UK Government provides in terms of childcare and we know where to look for instruction and example when it comes to childcare: independent states such as Denmark, which have the levers to fully provide for their childcare. Does the minister look forward as I do to the day when Scotland’s children can benefit from the investment and progressive policies of an independent Scottish Government?
Yes, and, a s Joe FitzPatrick says, Scotland already has the most generous childcare offer anywhere in the UK, and we believe that all children should be entitled to high-quality funded early learning and childcare regardless of the working status of their parents or carers. Under UK Government plans, a child’s access to funded childcare will depend on the working status of their parent or carer.
Of course, in an independent Scotland, the Scottish Government would have access to the full range of levers through tax and welfare assistance to give children the best possible start in life and plan for their needs holistically.