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Divert childcare handouts from the middle class to the poor, says senior Tory MP: Robert Halfon calls for a reduction in earnings cap

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Harding, Eleanor
Publication Date: 
4 Dec 2017



Childcare handouts for the middle classes should be curbed so that more poorer families can benefit from them, according to a senior Conservative MP.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, called for free nursery hours to be diverted to the unemployed, ‘whose children need it more'.

He urged a reduction of the earnings cap below which parents are eligible for 30 hours a week of free childcare for three-and four-year-olds.

Currently, all working couples or single parents are able to access the Government-funded hours as long as they earn less than £100,000 each.

Mr Halfon wants this cap halved so that only middle earners are included in the offer, which was introduced in the autumn. He said the money saved from such a move could then be diverted to unemployed parents, who currently are only entitled to 15 hours, doubling the amount of time their children benefit from nursery learning. 

The shift would help the Tories ‘reboot social justice' and fight the disadvantage which is still ‘endemic in every part of our education system', he said.

Previous studies have shown that more disadvantaged children have the most to gain from attending nurseries as it gives them a good grounding before they start school.

Richer children tend to have more resources available to them in their own homes, meaning they have a head start on their poorer peers, experts say.

Teachers have previously complained some of their most disadvantaged pupils have been turning up at school unable to speak due to neglect at home.

Mr Halfon made the suggestion during a speech about boosting social justice to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation yesterday. He also urged the Government to drop the eligibility earnings cap for tax-free childcare to £65,000 from the existing £100,000 mark, which would save £150 million.

He said this reform would free up cash for foster carers to access 30 hours of childcare for nursery-age youngsters. Currently, fostered children can only access 15 hours.

Mr Halfon said: ‘The exclusion of fostered children from the additional 15 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds in England is indefensible. Foster carers raise some of society's most vulnerable children, many of whom would benefit from high quality childcare, which would help boost social development.

‘We could pay for this by reducing the generous threshold that exists for parents to claim tax-free childcare, a subsidy that does not capture society's most disadvantaged families.' He added: ‘In time, we should also reduce the similarly generous earnings cap for the 30 hours of free childcare that is available for three- and four-year-olds.

‘And we should channel this to non-working parents, whose children need it more.'

The suggestions will be welcomed by poverty campaigners, who have pointed out that children with the most to gain from a nursery education are the poorest. In June, Andreas Schleicher, education director of the OECD, said the Government should prioritise nursery access for the most deprived families.

The 30 hours policy was introduced to help mothers in England get back to work and was welcomed by middle-class parents across the country struggling to make ends meet. Many women previously spent their entire salary or more on childcare, meaning often it is not worth them returning to their jobs.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to provide universal childcare for every child before they start school, regardless of family circumstances.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘We want to build a Britain where every young person has the opportunity to fulfil their potential regardless of their background. 

'Our data shows the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers has narrowed, that there are more people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering top universities than ever before and over 90 per cent of apprentices go into further work or training after their apprenticeship.

-reprinted from Daily Mail