UK PM Sunak expands free childcare as ‘improving’ sign before election

LONDON, Apr 2: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday marked the expansion of free government-funded childcare to cover two-year-olds as a sign of things “improving” for the economy ahead of a general election expected later this year.

During a round of local radio interviews in north-east England, the 43-year-old British Indian leader was again asked when he plans to call an election and reiterated his previous indication of a timeline in the second half of the year.

While he came under some criticism for laughing off the question during one such exchange, Sunak insisted that the government was heading to a place where the electorate would be able to see a “brighter future” ahead.

“Last year we promised the biggest-ever expansion in childcare provision this country has ever seen, and today we are delivering on our plan with 15 hours of free childcare for parents with two-year-olds,” said Sunak.

“We want to give working families the peace of mind that they will be supported and our full expansion will save parents 6,900 pounds a year – helping to build a brighter future for families and help to grow our economy,” he said.

Asked about a general election, he told BBC Radio Newcastle: “I’ve said repeatedly and clearly that my working assumption would be that we have a general election in the second half of the year. There’s been no change to that.”

“I think people hopefully will increasingly feel that things are improving and that we’re heading to a place where, as I said, I want to give people peace of mind that there’s a brighter future for them and their families, they can have a renewed sense of pride in our country. That’s the direction of travel and so we’re now heading in the right way,” he told BBC Radio Tees.

The Department for Education (DfE) said the childcare rollout is part of the Sunak-led government’s plan to help families, freeing thousands of couples from having to choose between having a family and a career.

“This is a landmark moment, and I am extremely proud to see we’re on track for more than 150,000 children to take up government-funded places under our new offer. This will be a lifeline for working parents, building up to this government’s plan for the most comprehensive childcare support in this country’s history by 2025,” said Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.

“Support with childcare costs has an enormous ripple effect, freeing up parents to increase their hours at work and put more money in their pockets, or giving them the security to try out a new career or passion. It also contributes to economic growth and opens up new career opportunities in a hugely rewarding sector,” she said.

The government claims it is the “largest ever expansion in childcare” which is being delivered by increasing the number of staff and places, introducing measures to boost the recruitment and retention of childminders, launching a major national recruitment campaign and providing over  400 million pounds of additional investment to uplift funding rates in 2024-25.

The DfE says the government will increase rates over the next two years by an estimated 500 million pounds, as confirmed in the Spring Budget last month. (PTI)