Liz Truss has urged Rishi Sunak not to ditch her childcare changes aimed at reducing costs.
The former prime minister was aiming to scrap mandatory staff-child ratios in nurseries while increasing free childcare support by 20 hours a week, to help tackle the labour crisis.
Ditching staff-child ratios would have allowed nurseries to cut costs by increasing the number of children each adult could be responsible for. Currently one adult is expected to supervise every eight children aged three, and one adult for every four children aged two.
Her plans would have gone further than those of her predecessor Boris Johnson, who launched a consultation to ease the ratio for two-year-olds to five children for each member of staff – matching Scottish regulations.
Truss had also hoped to extend free childcare support for three and four-year-olds to 50 hours a week. Parents in England with children aged three and four are currently entitled to 30 hours of free childcare a week. Sunak is understood to be considering offering 30 hours of free childcare support to all children between the ages of two and four, as only parents claiming benefits can currently claim free childcare for their two-year-olds.
Although Truss did not formally announce her proposals, she has long been in favour of changes to childcare since she worked in the education department as a junior minister almost a decade ago.
A number of Conservative backbenchers have expressed concern that Sunak does not appear to be giving childcare enough of a priority in his agenda, to such an extent that the Commons education select committee is set to launch an inquiry into the issue of childcare costs.
A source close to Liz Truss told the Guardian: “Excessive bureaucracy is making childcare in England increasingly unaffordable for many parents. The system needs to be reformed in order to boost growth and opportunity. Junking Liz’s plans for this critical policy area seems economically and politically counterproductive.”
A joint report welcomed by the Labour party revealed that free universal preschool childcare and more funding for after-school clubs could increase government revenues and save a family with young children between £620 and £6,175 a year.
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The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the charity Save the Children have called for a universal childcare guarantee for all families until the end of primary school to allow more women to get back into work and reduce the attainment gap between rich and poor children in their early years.
The shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, criticised Sunak for delaying changes to the childcare system. She said: “Accessible, affordable childcare is essential for children, for families, for our economy. But the prime minister doesn’t care. The Tories have given up on governing.”