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Keeping children at the centre of childcare policy: A response to Budget 2023

Sally Hogg (Senior Policy Fellow)

In today’s Budget the UK Government announced an expansion of the offer of 30 hours of free early childhood education and care (ECEC) to working parents with children aged nine months to three years old. This was accompanied by other measures intended to increase the availability and affordability of ECEC. 

 The Budget was focused on growing the economy, and the ECEC announcements were all framed as “childcare” “for parents” with the goal of increasing workforce participation. The announcements are in a section of the budget document under the title “Parents”, which begins: “The employment rate and hours worked of parents, particularly mothers, drops after childbirth and persists until after their children reach school age…”.  

 While many charities and parent groups have welcomed efforts to make ECEC more affordable, they have warned that the “devil is in the detail” of the new policies. Significant concerns have been raised about whether there is sufficient funding available for providers to deliver existing and new entitlements; the risks of increasing ratios for two-year-olds; and how Government will ensure sufficient places to meet any increase in demand. 

 High-quality early education and care can provide babies and young children with opportunities to play, explore and learn. It also supports early development, with positive impacts on a range of later outcomes. Our Early Years Library shows some ways in which settings can support early development. 

 Today’s budget did not include any measures specifically designed to improve the quality of ECEC, to support evidence-based practice, or to improve children’s outcomes. The intention of today’s announcement – reflected in the language used – was supporting parents to work, not supporting children to play and learn. Announcements focused on improving children’s outcomes might have looked different.  

For example, an entitlement for ECEC framed from children’s point of view, might have included babies and young children whose parents do not work (who will not benefit from the extended free entitlement announced today). 

 Policies for babies and young children are fragmented across Government, with different aims and objectives. Now that Government is funding childcare for children for babies and young toddlers, it is more important than ever that we have a cross-government early years strategy, joining up Start for Life & childcare policies with a clear vision for improving experiences and outcomes for all babies and young children.  

Early Years Library

Click here to visit the Early Years Library, which we co-created with the Early Intervention Foundation and the Nuffield Foundation to provide practical resources for ECEC practitioners, to help support:

  • language & early literacy skills
  • early numeracy skills
  • social & emotional skills