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Single parents searching for work frozen out of free childcare offer

Fury as Camden Council's unique commitment to helping parents is put at risk in government shake-up

09 February, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Council leader Councillor Sarah Hayward has called on Education Secretary Justine Greening to intervene

PARENTS earning up to £200,0000 a year are to be handed 30 hours of state-paid childcare a week, while single parents struggling to find work are denied the same help.

In a move described this week as a “direct transfer to the rich from the poor”, the government has ruled that only parents employed for more than 16 hours a week will be able to take up the offer. The free childcare will be available, however, for people in work until one parent earns more than £100,000.  The stark contrast in the rules means a couple where both parents earn £99,999 each would be able to claim, but a single parent scouring the job market while looking after their child or children at the same time could be frozen out.

In other areas, the changes have been heralded as a policy which rewards and helps people who go to work and spreads funding more evenly around the country. But in Camden, there are fears a historic commitment to providing free
childcare is now at serious risk.

The Town Hall is the only authority in the country which currently spends extra to provide a universal offer of 25 hours of free childcare for three- to four-year-olds, as most councils stick to the statutory, nationwide 15-hour offer.

While it may seem the government is catching up with Camden’s idea of offering more, officers and politicians at the Town Hall fear the changes will be at the expense of those worst off.

Those not working or not working enough hours will only qualify for 15 hours of help. Council leader Sarah Hayward told the New Journal: “This is not a meaningful amount of time for single parents to go out and try and get themselves job-ready again, to look for jobs, to go for interviews. It affects them negatively.”

At least 600 children in Camden – aged three and four – will be entitled to fewer free hours under the changes, it has been estimated.
Cllr Hayward, who has written to education secretary Justine Greening demanding a rethink, said: “We have historically offered more, not as part of some far-out ideological whim but because the evidence is that it works. It helps people to find work, and the childcare we provide helps narrow the gap between the children who have free school meals and those who
don’t when they reach their reception year at school.”

She added: “It feels like we’ve made a decision to help people locally with this, but central government has just taken over and said no you can’t. The most disadvantaged are hurt, while you could have a couple where both parents earn £99,000 and they qualify. That is nothing other than a cash transfer to the rich from the poorest residents.”

After the changes, Camden would need to find at least £4million a year to carry on its 25-hour offer to people declared ineligible for the government’s new offer.

A Department for Education spokesman said this week: “Our 30 hours free offer for three- and four-year-olds is set to save working parents up to £5,000 per year. We’re also supporting the most disadvantaged families through our free 15 hours offer for two-year-olds and our pupil premium – worth over £300 a year per eligible child.”


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