A group of Monmouth mothers has slammed the Welsh Government for hampering women’s opportunities in the workplace by failing to offer the same level of early education and support with childcare costs as England.
Last March, it was announced free childcare for working parents in England would be expanded to all children under five by September 2025 to help parents get back to work.
A petition calling for this to be matched in Wales has gathered over 10,000 signatures and is now under consideration by the Senedd’s Petitions Committee.
Working parents of two-year-olds in England will get 15 hours of free childcare per week from April 2024. Children between nine months and two years can claim 15 hours from September 2024, with the scheme being extended to 30 hours from September 2025 for all eligible under-fives.
In comparison, Wales will take until September 2025 to provide 12.5 hours of free childcare to all two-year-olds. Furthermore, there is no plan in place for children over nine months old or increasing these hours to 15 or 30.
The Labour Welsh Government is instead choosing to lead with its flagship Flying Start scheme, which is based on postcode area rather than being universal and aims to help families with young children in the poorest parts of Wales.
But there are concerns and deep anger that Flying Start is “letting parents down” during the cost of living crisis with its “postcode lottery”.
Monmouth mum Charlotte O’Leary, whose daughter is almost two-years-old, lives on the Rockfield Estate and has been told her postcode is not covered by Flying Start – whereas some households just a stone’s throw away are.
“It is very frustrating that if we were to live a couple of miles over the border in England, we would soon be eligible for 15 hours of free childcare but in Wales we are entitled to nothing,” she said.
“I thought a Labour government was supposed to support working families and improve education for young people, not penalise us for living in Wales and result in us being around £360 per month worse off?
“The 12.5 hours of free childcare under the Flying Start scheme can be claimed even if neither parent is working, which many find an insult to working mothers who do not qualify. As a result, our two-year-olds are slipping through the net.
“We understand it is the intention that Flying Start will eventually be rolled out to all two-year-olds. However, this is of no benefit to our children who will be too old and whose early years education will already have been permanently disadvantaged.”
Unlike in England, childcare providers must also register with Flying Start before they can receive the free 12.5 hours.
Local MP David Davies met Ms O’Leary and other frustrated parents on Thursday (25 January) alongside Monmouth MS Peter Fox.
They heard stories from working mothers who described the lack of financial support for childcare as a “major barrier” - including a nurse who said it is “financially pointless” to work any extra hours as childcare and community costs would cancel out the additional income, and a highly skilled defence programmer who has a nursery bill greater than her salary.
Mr Davies said: “I was left in no doubt that the discrepancy between the support available for families in Wales compared to the support offered across the border in England for parents of two-year-olds will push some to reconsider where they choose to work and live.
“This is a significant issue which is disproportionately impacting women and their opportunities within the workplace. Indeed, there is a great deal of anger that by not supporting all women to access childcare, the Labour Welsh Government is marginalising women and preventing career progression.
“Once again, ministers in Cardiff Bay are hindering hardworking families. Highly skilled people who want to return to work and be positive role models for their children are being forced to stay at home because the cost of childcare outweighs their salary.
“Meanwhile in England, the Conservative UK Government has expanded free childcare to all children under the age of five to give a helping hand to parents getting back to work.
“Instead of using the money given to them by Westminster to go towards childcare, Welsh Labour is choosing to spend it elsewhere on vanity projects such as creating extra Senedd politicians.”
The Monmouth MP is joining forces with his Senedd colleague Peter Fox MS to urge the Welsh Government to reconsider and make the Flying Start hours available to all children from September 2024, to bring Wales closer in line with England.
Mr Fox added: “Whilst the Flying Start scheme is a vital programme for both parents and children, it isn’t universally spread across Wales. As a result, there are many parents who are still without access to this childcare support.
“This postcode lottery must end now, and better support rolled out.
“What we need is the Labour Welsh Government to follow the Conservative UK Government and expand free childcare across Wales, ensuring parents get the support they need.”