The Chancellor has found himself a treasure chest: childcare. In his quest for full employment, it’s seen as crucial for boosting maternal employment. Helping parents with punishingly high childcare costs appeals to and supports those on modest incomes – the so-called ‘blue-collar’ voters – that Conservatives still need to woo.
Nothing quite encapsulates the modernisation of the Tory party as its growing enthusiasm for childcare. The Conservatives no longer want to be seen simply as the flag-waver for a traditional family setup. Instead, they aspire to be the party for working people. No yearning for yesteryear, but enthusiastically supporting two-earner couples that are increasingly the norm, out of choice and necessity.
Indeed, despite fiscal retrenchment, the Chancellor has dished out generous childcare subsidies, for parents on nearly all incomes. Most recipients of the new Universal Credit will have 85 per cent of their childcare costs paid for by government, higher than the 80 per cent provided under the tax credit system.
Working parents not on Universal Credit earning up to £150,000 a year with children under the age of five will, in autumn, now access Tax-Free childcare, paying for 20 per cent of their annual childcare costs of up to £10,000. This is a superior scheme to its predecessor introduced by the last Labour government – employer-supporter childcare vouchers – because the financial support available is more generous in most instances and is less arbitrary since it is not dependent on employer participation.
Finally, the Tory manifesto promised to spend billions extending the Early Years Free Entitlement, so all parents of three and four year olds will now be able to access free childcare for up to 30 hours per week. This is up from the current 15 hours per week and more generous than the 25 hours per week proposed in the Labour Manifesto.