Free childcare scheme gets £650m boost

PARENTS have a better chance of accessing free nursery places for their toddlers after chancellor George Osborne almost doubled the scope of the government’s free childcare scheme yesterday.

Free places at day care nurseries, children’s centres, playgroups or child minders for 15 hours per week will be made available to 260,000 two-year-olds from disadvantaged families, equivalent to about 40 per cent of the age group. The government estimates the cost of expanding the programme to be £380m per year by 2014-15 or £650m over the spending period.

Osborne said the plans intended to better educate young children to help them move out of poverty.

“The government will take action to tackle the causes of child poverty rather than simply funding extra welfare payments,” he said in the Autumn Statement report.

The scheme currently covers 140,000 two-year olds and offers up to 15 hours of free care per week for all three and four year olds.

Mark Jones, head of protection at insurer LV= said the move was “a welcome benefit for the families struggling most to meet the high costs of childcare.”

But Tim Knox, director of the Centre for Policy Studies, warned that “many of the measures announced today amount to little more than government meddling”.