Opposition fails to expand flagship free childcare scheme to cover all children

(Title Image: nurseryworld.co.uk)

At a Glance Guide

Childcare Finance Bill at introduction (summary)
Stage 1 report (summary)

The Bill:

  • Provides the legal necessities to introduce the Welsh Government’s free childcare scheme, which will provide 30 hours a week of free childcare (for eligible 3-and-4-year olds) for 48 weeks a year.
  • Sets the eligibility criteria. In practice, this means the 3-and-4-year-olds of (a) working parent(s) earning at least 16 hours a week at minimum wage or living wage. No parent can earn more than £100,000 a year.
  • Sets out the sanctions and appeal mechanisms – parents can be fined up to £3,000 for providing false information and can appeal to a tribunal to challenge any decisions.

Major Changes at Stage 2

Stage 2 proceedings were undertaken by the Education & Young People Committee and the member in charge – Minister for Children & Social Care, Huw Irranca-Davies (Lab, Ogmore).

Most of the amendments were changes to the wording and provided a bit more clarity on the eligibility criteria for children. The wording has also changed so the free childcare offer can be extended to children under the age of 3 in the future.

There has been some controversy over the eligibility criteria, with the Children & Young People Committee recommending the scheme be extended to cover all 3-and-4-year olds . Amendments to that effect were rejected at Stage 2, but re-appear below.

The Key Amendments at Stage 3

Amendment 2– Minister for Children & Social Services, Huw Irranca-Davies
The Welsh Government will have to report on the effect of the Act five years after it becomes law.
Vote: Approved – 32 for, 11 against

Amendment 8– Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon)
Expands the childcare scheme to include all children, not just those of working parents.
Vote: Rejected -18 for, 25 against
Reason for Rejection: There are a number of different Welsh Government programmes aimed at helping non-working parents or those in training/education, such as Flying Start and extra funding for student parents.

Amendment 11– Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy)
Expands the eligibility criteria to include children of parents who are undertaking at least 16 hours a week of education or training.
Vote: Rejected – 18 for, 25 against
Reason for Rejection: Same as Amendment 8.

Amendment 13 – Janet Finch-Saunders AM
No charge may be levied by childcare providers for children who would otherwise be eligible for free school meals if they were of school age.
Vote: Rejected – 18 for, 25 against
Reason for Rejection: There are already measures in place to stop “unreasonable charges”.

Amendment 31– Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Places a duty on the Welsh Government to properly promote awareness of the scheme.
Vote: Rejected – 18 for, 25 against
Reason for Rejection: The Minister made a commitment to launch a national awareness campaign.

Amendment 35– Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Inserts a “sunset clause” where the Act is automatically repealed in September 2023 unless the Senedd approves for it to continue (via regulations).
Vote: Rejected – 18 for, 25 against
Reason for Rejection: It would send the wrong message to parents and care providers about the Welsh Government’s commitment to the scheme.

A vote on the final version of the Bill has been scheduled for next week.

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