MORE than 106,000 parents have signed a petition calling for the Government to provide free childcare when kids turn nine months.
Currently, the Government offers at least 15 hours of free childcare for 38 weeks of the year for all three and four-year-olds in England.
Alamy A petition has been launched calling for free childcare to start when a baby is nine months old
Working parents who earn at least the national minimum or living wage for 16 hours a week but less than £100,000 each may also qualify for an extra 15 hours a week on top.
Some two-year-olds can also get free childcare if their parents are on certain benefits, such as income support or Universal Credit, and they have a combined income of £15,400 a year – or less – after tax.
But this new petition asks for the Government to reduce the age on its current free childcare policy to nine months, which is when statutory maternity pay ends and parents typically have to go back to work.
Harley Cuthbert, who started the petition, writes that working families are “struggling” to meet the burden of childcare and says that in come cases you can even be better off out of work.
What help is available for parents?CHILDCARE can be a costly business. Here is how you can get help:
30 hours free childcare – All three and four-year-old children in England are eligible for 15 hours of free childcare. Parents of three- and four-year-olds can apply for can apply for up to 30 hours of free childcare a week as long as they work at least 16 hours a week at the national living or minimum wage and earn less than £100,000 a year.
15 hours free childcare – In England, two-year-olds can get free early education and childcare if you’re on certain benefits.
Tax credits – For children under 16, some working families can get up to £122.50 a week depending on their income to help with childcare costs.
Childcare vouchers – If your employer offers childcare vouchers you can get up to £933 a year in tax and national insurance savings. You pay for your childcare before your tax contributions are taken out. But be aware that this scheme is now shut to new joiners.
Tax-free childcare – Available to working families and the self-employed, for every £8 you put in the Government will add an extra £2.
Universal Credit – Parents in receipt of Universal Credit can claim up to 85 per cent of their childcare costs for children under 17.
The Childcare Choices website can help you find out what you may qualify for.
It comes as more than half of private nurseries have upped fees, pushing some working parents into thousands of pounds of debt.
As the petition has now been signed by more than 100,000 people it means the Government will have to respond to it while Parliament will also now consider the issue for debate.
The petition states: “After nine months of maternity leave, most working mums do not receive any maternity pay and need to go back to work.
“I think all working parents should be entitled to 15 hours free childcare from the time a child is nine months. It makes more sense to provide this funding from nine months instead of two years.”
It adds: “Once you go back [to work] the majority of your wage goes to childcare and in some cases you are better of not working. This should not be the case.”
Becky O’Connor, personal finance specialist at financial provider Royal London, says many families are struggling to meet typical childcare costs of £1,000 a month and adds that urgent intervention is needed.
She said: “The gap between the end of parental leave pay at nine months and funded hours for childcare at three means that many parents are forced to give up work because they can’t afford childcare or struggle to meet the costs – around £1,000 a month for a full-time nursery place – to keep their jobs.
“Such a huge additional monthly bill is unaffordable to most households and comes at a hugely demanding time of family life.
“The way support for childcare costs is structured is uneven, hard to understand and difficult to plan work around.
“Even if the proposal in this petition is not the answer – the gap in support for childcare costs for parents of toddler-age children needs to be filled urgently.”
From tax-free childcare to free nursery hours – here’s the childcare help worth £5,000-plus parents may be missing out on.
Pregnant mums could also get £500 grant to help with cost of a new baby – here’s how to apply.
Plus, new mums can get up to £145 a week in maternity pay – even if they don’t have a job or boss.
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Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “We recognise that for many parents, being able to afford good-quality childcare is essential to working and supporting their families.
“That is why we are investing around £3.5 billion on our early education entitlements this year alone – more than any previous government – to help parents with their childcare costs so that every child has access to a high quality early education.
“We have also introduced Tax-Free Childcare, which benefits 1.5 million eligible families who have childcare costs and can be used for children aged 0-11.”
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