Budget leaves Northern Ireland families further behind in childcare support

Employers For Childcare is warning that yesterday’s Budget leaves Northern Ireland families even further behind those in other parts of the UK in terms of the financial support available with childcare, widening an already large gap. In his Spring Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt outlined a series of measures to support parents with their childcare costs, as part of a Government drive to encourage people back to work and to boost economic growth.

Measures announced included an extension of the 30 hours free childcare offer in England to children from 9 months as well as an increase to the childcare support available through Universal Credit and additional funding for wraparound childcare.  Critically though, other than the increase to the maximum monthly support for childcare costs through Universal Credit, the reforms announced yesterday will not apply in Northern Ireland.

Commenting on the Budget announcements, Aoife Hamilton, Head of Charity Services at Employers For Childcare said:

“The Chancellor’s announcements yesterday reflected the key role childcare plays in supporting parents to get into and stay in work, and to the economy. The increase to the childcare support through Universal Credit is a positive development but we also need to see an increase in the support available through Tax-Free Childcare, and removal of the £2,000 per year cap on support, to benefit more working families.  

However, much of what the Chancellor announced won’t apply in Northern Ireland. Extending free childcare for all children from 9 months in England has the potential to make a huge difference to the lives of parents and children, and while equivalent funding will be made available to Northern Ireland through the Barnett consequential, there is no guarantee it will be allocated to childcare. In the absence of an Executive, and ring-fenced funding for childcare in Northern Ireland, this Budget therefore only serves to widen the gap between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in relation to financial support with childcare, as we fall further and further behind. Since yesterday we have been hearing from many agitated parents who are frustrated that they will not see any benefit from this important announcement.

“We know the political parties in Northern Ireland have expressed their commitment to delivering on childcare. But we need to see promises now translated into policies that put pounds into the pockets of families, and investment in our critical childcare infrastructure. In order to do this, we need to see our Executive back up and running, and addressing childcare as a day one priority.”