That childcare is now high on the government's agenda, at a time when many areas are of growing financial concern, is an achievement by campaigning parents and charities that should not be minimised. The government's proposal for tax-free childcare support, unveiled earlier this week, demonstrates that the prime minister and the deputy prime minister have heard the warnings that childcare costs were spiralling alarmingly.
The announcement, which appears to offer help for more families, from across the income spectrum, is for this reason good news. The expansion of childcare vouchers to parents whose employers don't currently take part in the scheme is hugely positive. However, it appears that whilst under current rules both parents can claim vouchers, in the new system the voucher will only be available to one earner. In addition, to benefit from the scheme both parents will need to be in work which will exclude families with a single earner, a blow to some families who have already lost their child benefit.
Increased support for some of the lowest income families - up from 70% of childcare costs to 85% - will make a big difference and will mean that these families will get more of the money they earn as long as they reach the threshold for paying income tax. It is a missed opportunity, however, that this is not being extended to some of the lowest paid workers - earning less than £10,000 per year.
Overall, these are welcome announcements but families who are feeling extreme pressure on their family budgets today, will regret that they will have to wait at least two and a half years to benefit from them. With the cost of childcare rising by around 5% a year there will be some tough times ahead before 2015/16 when this extra money comes on stream.
When the Chancellor announces his Comprehensive Spending Review in June we will be looking closely to see where the money to pay for this comes from. We will want to be sure that it is not being paid for by reducing other support for children and families. This is why the Fair4Families campaign has been launched, aiming to ensure that the CSR gives real support to all children and families, particularly those already struggling with the rising cost of living and cuts to benefits.
There are no easy solutions when it comes to making sure that childcare is affordable for both parents and providers, but the government must guarantee that parents have the means to work and still give their children affordable, high-quality childcare, and that this will also be sustainable in the future.