Rishi Sunak ‘shelves Liz Truss’ free childcare reforms’

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss during the Tory (PA) leadership contest

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss during the Tory (PA) leadership contest

Rishi Sunak is said to have indefinitely postponed Liz Truss’ plan to reform the childcare system to increase free benefits.

The former prime minister – ousted after just six weeks in 10th place – is believed to have considered increasing free childcare by 20 hours a week, as well as easing restrictions on staff-to-child ratios.

Mr Sunak is ‘postponing’ Mrs Truss’s plans and the scale of reforms is now expected to be less ambitious, according to Daily Telegraph – causing unrest among some leading Tories.

Conservative MP Steve Brine, chairman of the all-party childcare group, called on the government to continue the reforms the Truss government had pledged before Christmas.

“There is a serious structural problem with childcare in England in both state-run and especially private and business-run settings,” he told the paper.

“There should be a review of long-term childcare funding. Cost pressures for childcare providers are forcing many to go out of business,” said the senior MP.

Mr Brine added: “Our message to ministers is to talk to us and the industry. It’s not too late for reform, but the situation is serious.”

The Truss government is believed to have considered changing the childcare subsidy system whereby parents, rather than nurseries, would receive government cash to spend as they see fit.

At the moment, all three- and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week during term time, while some families can claim up to 30 hours.

One idea reportedly being considered by the Truss administration was to increase free childcare from a maximum of 30 hours a week to a maximum of 50 hours.

In a sign of Tory frustration that the plans had been put on hold, a member of Ms Truss’s former team said Telegraph that continued childcare reform could “detoxify the Tory brand”.

“Childcare could be a real winner for us in the next election, especially where we are battling the Liberal Democrats,” they said. “Liz wanted childcare reform to be a central part of her campaign bid; Rishi would be stupid not to do the same.

It was also said that Ms Truss wanted to abolish the staff-to-child ratio altogether to cut costs for providers, in the hope that this would make childcare cheaper for parents.

Following a public consultation launched in July, the government is formally considering changing the ratio of early years staff per child from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds.

But the children’s charity Coram said relaxing the limits would be “useless entertainment” unlikely to reduce costs for families, while Neil Leitch, head of the Early Years Alliance, said the “mindless policy” “would do more harm than benefit for the sector already on its knees”.

A #10 source said childcare remains “very important to the prime minister” and he has “worked hard with ministers to improve childcare and early years for the benefit of children and parents.”

The Department for Education (DfE) said it would review “all options” to make childcare more accessible and affordable, but no decisions have yet been made.

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