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20-hours-free policy plagued with problems

11 July 2005

Hon Bill English National Party Education Spokesman

20-hours-free policy plagued with problems

Officials' criticism of Labour's discriminatory 20-hours-free policy is so negative that it raises questions about whether the policy could be implemented at all, says National's Education spokesman, Bill English.

He is commenting on papers released under the Official Information Act which show that Treasury, the Ministry of Social Development and the Department of Labour have all slated the policy.

Treasury officials say: "...We know about the possible increase in fees for hours over the free entitlement. As we've all discussed at length over the last few months, the overall cost to parents may in fact increase."

These warnings are repeated in a briefing for the Social Development Select Committee: "There is a risk that prices for 0-2 year olds, and all age groups above 20 hours in community-based services will be pushed up to cover any shortfall caused by average cost funding for 20 hours free care for 3 and 4 year olds."

The Department of Labour says: "The proposal fails entirely it seems, to address some of the most consistent messages from parents about barriers to participation relating to childcare. These relate to cost, to supply and to flexibility of hours." It also says: "We are concerned with the focus on 3 and 4 year olds when we know parents of younger children experience particular difficulties in affording quality affordable childcare in order to participate in the labour market."

The Ministry of Social Development says: "For at least 20 per cent of families, all parents present in the household... are in full-time employment, meaning that no parent is available to support their children in sessional care (by picking them up or dropping them off)."

"It is clear that the 20-hours-free policy is more a product of Labour ideology than what is best for families," says Mr English.

"National's childcare tax deduction is designed to help all families by supporting the choices they make about what childcare they use and when they use it.

"Labour, despite repeated warnings, is intent on dictating to families about their childcare options. Under Labour's policy only 22,000 out of 280,000 under-fives will be eligible for cheaper childcare. Under National's policy all under-fives stand to benefit," says Mr English.

ENDS

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