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Nurseries are being paid enough to deliver massive increase in free childcare, minister claims

Gillian Keegan today defended the amount of cash the government is giving nurseries to pay for a huge increase in free places, despite childcare bosses warning it is not enough.

The education secretary was asked about nurseries that say the funding they are getting for “free” places does not cover their increased costs. She replied: “It does, it does.”

Ms Keegan insisted the government has worked with 9,000 nursery businesses to make sure they get the funding for its massive increase in free places right. Ms Keegan added that she recently asked a nursery worker in Hertfordshire what she thought about the funding rates, saying: “She said ‘I was pleasantly surprised when I got them’.”

Ms Keegan’s comments, on BBC’s Today Programme, come after research by the National Day Nurseries Association suggests that fewer than half of nurseries are likely to implement the government’s planned expansion in free places because of concerns about funding.

Many nurseries fear the financial support provided by the government will not be enough to cover the increase in free childcare hours.

The government’s multi-million pound childcare reforms have been billed as the biggest expansion of childcare in a generation.

From next month parents of two-year-olds will be eligible for 15 hours free care.

The plans will ultimately see working parents of children as young as nine months old entitled to 30 hours of free childcare per week, by September 2025.

Parents must earn less than £100,000 a year to qualify for the new hours. Some have claimed this is unfair because two parents could earn just short of £100,000 each and still qualify, despite their household income being almost double that of a family with just one working parent earning £100,000.

Writing on Twitter, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said this is an issue he would like to “sort out” after the next election, because £100,000 is not a “huge salary” in his constituency in Surrey.

Asked about this by Nick Robinson on BBC Radio Four, Ms Keegan said: The difficulty with any policy when you are talking about eligibility is where you put that. You always have to set some number…somebody will get it and somebody won’t and that’s the problem. Someone is going to fall one side of every part of policy and every eligibility criteria.”

She said there are around three per cent of families where one or both parents earn £100,000 or more.

She added that she got into “terrible trouble” when she said that some secondary headteachers now earn more than £100,000, adding: “So you just can’t comment really.

“The reality is average secondary school headteachers are now in that bracket and there are many, many other professionals that are in that bracket.”  

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