'Our Childcare Policies Will Make It Easier To Have A Family,' Minister Says

Claire Coutinho hit back after Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed the expansion of free childcare was "anti-family".
Minister for children, families and wellbeing Claire Coutinho
Minister for children, families and wellbeing Claire Coutinho
London Portrait Photoqrapher-DAV

Minister Claire Coutinho said the government’s childcare plans will make it “easier” to have a family, in an exclusive interview with HuffPost UK.

The Tory MP also hit back at Jacob Rees-Mogg who criticised Rishi Sunak’s free childcare expansion as “anti-family”.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has promised a ÂŁ4billion plan to fund 30 hours of free childcare a week for all children, from the end of parental leave until school age.

“This is the single largest ever investment in childcare…I don’t want any mum to feel that childcare is a barrier to work.”

- Claire Coutinho

Former cabinet minister Rees-Mogg described it as “fundamentally anti-Conservative” and said the party should offer policies to encourage marriage instead, at a speech in London on Tuesday.

Asked about his comments, Coutinho insisted their policy is “definitely something which is family positive” and would help families to stay together.

“I’ve worked on family policy for a long time,” the minister for children, families and wellbeing said.

“One of the periods when you have a higher amount of family breakdown - when families are really strained - is in those early years.

“That’s why it is really important to support those early years. So this is supporting families, it’s supporting them to stay together, it’s supporting them to make the right choices in terms of their work, in terms of their family balance.”

The offer of free childcare will be available to working parents of two-year-olds from April 2024, but initially it will be limited to 15 hours.

Coutinho insisted the government’s plan was “genuinely radical” and that Hunt [pictured] and Sunak had been the “biggest” champions of the policy.
Coutinho insisted the government’s plan was “genuinely radical” and that Hunt [pictured] and Sunak had been the “biggest” champions of the policy.
WPA Pool via Getty Images

From September 2024, the 15-hour offer will be extended to children from nine months, and the full 30-hour offer to working parents of children under five will come in from September 2025.

Coutinho said the pandemic and cost of living crisis had made raising a family “really hard” and added: “All of our policies that we are looking at is to try and make it easier to have a family and to make sure that you’re supported during that time.”

She said mothers told her they were really struggling with childcare costs and getting back into work.

“That’s why we put in place this policy,” she said. “I do think it’s genuinely radical. We’re going to be doubling the amount that we spend on childcare by 2027-28.

“It is the single largest investment ever into childcare. And it will save families on average something like £6,500 [a year].”

As part of their plan, the government will also pilot incentive payments of ÂŁ600 for childminders joining the profession, and ÂŁ1,200 if they join through an agency.

They are also providing ÂŁ289 million for schools to increase the supply of wraparound care and changing minimum staff-to-child ratios in nurseries England from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds in England.

Childcare support will also be paid to parents on Universal Credit upfront - rather than in arrears.

However, questions have been raised about the plan, including over the funding, the supply of places and concerns that the quality of childcare could be sacrificed in the pursuit of getting people into work.

Another concern is the lack of early years workers as so many have left the profession.

A survey of providers found that 84% said they were finding it “difficult” to recruit suitable new early years staff, with a majority (60%) finding it “very difficult”.

Coutinho pointed to the government’s grant incentive schemes and said she was keen to make the registration period for childminders “smoother” and ensure the sector feels “valued”.

The minister insisted the government’s plan is “genuinely radical” and added: “I have heard from parents who are really struggling and it is often mum who is trying to make the decision between going back to work and whether they’re going to be able to cover their costs of childcare.

“And what I’m hoping to see, in two years time, is I don’t want any mum to feel that childcare is a barrier to work.”

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