Gingerbread’s snap response to 2023 Spring Budget

Posted 15 March 2023

Gingerbread welcomes the expansion of free childcare provision and changes to Universal Credit childcare payments in today’s Budget. These changes will support single parents with young children in returning to, and maintaining, employment. However we are concerned that changes to sanctions will punish single parents who cannot find work which is flexible enough for their childcare needs.

We have long been calling for upfront childcare payments under Universal Credit, and we are pleased that the Government has finally listened, increasing the amount of support for childcare costs (to 83% of the national average full time nursery fees). Crucially, this will now be paid upfront instead of in arrears. However, this increased payment only represents 55% of the average nursery fees in inner London, meaning some single parents will still be left to foot a hefty childcare bill.

The Government will also give local authorities funding to expand wraparound childcare provision in schools, starting in September 2024. This is welcome, as we highlighted in our Single Parent Employment Challenge report that many single parents perceive after-school childcare as competitive to access and not 100% reliable. However, the devil will be in the detail. Single parents have highlighted concerns about finding suitable childcare for young teenagers, and during the school holidays, and the administration of the wrapround care funding needs to reflect these needs.

We also welcome the expansion of the 30 free hours of childcare, which will eventually mean that all parents with children aged 9 months and older who work a minimum of 16 hours a week will be entitled to free hours. However, the length of time required for this roll-out means that a gap remains until September 2025. The Government must ensure that there are local childcare spaces available for all children when they need them, else single parents may be left with childcare options that do not suit their working needs.

The Government has also announced plans impose work search requirements on all parents of children over the age of one, as well as a requirement for all of those receiving Universal Credit to work for at least 18 hours, up from 15. We are concerned that this will push thousands of single parents into the sanctions regime, which doesn’t work and has been shown to have a negative impact on people’s wellbeing and finances.

It’s clear that the Chancellor wants to use measures in the Budget to get more people into work, and this is something many single parents tell us they want. However, they are held back not only by unaffordable childcare, but also a lack of flexible and part time roles. Action is desperately needed to make flexible working the default. Sanctioning parents who are unable to find work that suits their childcare needs is not a solution.