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Thousands back calls for parents in Wales to get same childcare support as in England

THE SENEDD debated two petitions calling for working parents in Wales to be offered the same childcare support as in England.

The UK Government announced plans as part of the 2023 spring budget to provide working parents of two-year-olds 15 hours of free childcare a week from April 2024.

UK ministers aim to expand this in stages to 30 hours a week for all eligible working parents of children aged nine months to three years by September 2025.

Jack Sargeant, who chairs the petitions committee, said the petitions calling for the offer in Wales to match that in England – submitted by Jade Richards and Madelaine Hallam – collected a total of more than 11,000 signatures.

Mr Sargeant raised Oxfam’s warning that childcare costs are forcing Welsh parents into poverty and deterring them from having more children.

The Labour MS for Alyn and Deeside also highlighted a Senedd equality committee report, entitled Minding the Future, on the childcare barrier facing working parents.

He warned a significant number of people in Wales are unhappy with the offer and roll-out.

Mr Sargeant said: “Any of us across the chamber will have conversations with constituents who really need support and feel frustrated by the speed of change.

“This will include people who just live a street away from neighbours who are receiving support through Flying Start, yet they receive no support at all.

“The petitioners have said to me they are not against the premise of Flying Start and the idea of Flying Start, but they do question how it’s delivered in practice.”

Joel James, for the Conservatives, told the chamber that the UK Government offer will trigger £180 million of consequential funding for Wales.

Sioned Williams, for Plaid Cymru, said the childcare offer in England will not be available to every child and family and it would only span 38 weeks of the year.

During the debate on January 31, she called for any consequential funding from childcare spending in England to be used for the same purposes in Wales.

Ms Williams stressed: “This is a crucial matter in terms of tackling the shameful levels of child poverty and inequality that scar our communities.”

She highlighted a Bevan Foundation report, which was published the same day and found that 70 per cent of parents whose youngest is under ten say childcare is unaffordable.

Deputy minister for social services Julie Morgan argued Wales has one of the most generous offers in the UK, covering 48 weeks and including parents in education or training.

Ms Morgan warned that promises to families in England will fall well short of expectations.

She said: “It’s all very well to say you’re going to do something but in order to do it, you have to have the places, you have to have the workforce and you have to work jointly.”

She pointed to a commitment, under a deal with Plaid Cymru, to deliver a phased expansion of early years provision to include all two-year-olds, with a focus on the Welsh-medium offer.