The South Down MLA said,
The Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget of an intention to invest in childcare is welcome because it at least recognises how important this issue is. However, it’s important to look beyond the presentation gloss to the realities of the policies outlined and whether parents in England will see the kind of transformational change promised, and what consequential funding Northern Ireland will receive.
The increase in hours of free childcare in England for 1-3 year olds poses operational challenges and it will not provide relief for parents struggling today, the proposal is staggered over two years. The 15 hours per week will commence this time next year. Many may also question whether the promised increase to 30 hours will be achieved given it isn’t due to take effect until after the next General Election.
Northern Ireland, like elsewhere in the UK requires significant investment in childcare infrastructure. Facilities need to be built, staff recruited, trained and retained if we are to provide the capacity needed. We need childcare places that are both affordable and available.
With the gap in the Northern Ireland budget already in place and the deficits facing us in the 23/24 financial year there will be a significant challenge to even ringfence the consequential funding that will come here as a result of this announcement.
This was a missed opportunity for the Chancellor to have made a real impact on childcare. We have repeatedly called for an increase to the Tax-Free Allowance for childcare. That would not only have offered greater flexibility in the system but would have offered assistance to a much wider group of parents than who will benefit from the proposals currently on offer. We will continue to challenge for this meaningful change to childcare across the UK.