14 Mar 2018, Catherine Gaunt
During the debate, education secretary Damien Hinds announced that the scheme would be kept open to new entrants for another six months. It was supposed to close on 6 April.
Labour used what is known as a humble address motion which allowed MPs to ‘pray against’ the plans during a three-hour debate and vote on the changes to free school meals, two-year-old child-care eligibility and the axing of childcare vouchers. These are all part of changes to universal credit, which the Government wanted to bring in using a statutory instrument, which does not require a vote.
Labour had also hoped to overturn the government’s plans to bring in means-testing for funded two-year-old childcare and an income threshold for free school meals, which the Children’s Society has said would lead to one million of England’s poorest children missing out on free school meals.
However, Labour lost four votes on the statutory instruments, with the education secretary’s concession on the childcare vouchers meaning an opposition motion to scrap the change was defeated by 315 votes to 288.
The Democratic Unionist Party, which usually votes with the Conservatives, has also voiced opposition to the scrapping of childcare vouchers.
In response to DUP MP Emma Pengelly at the end of the debate education secretary Damien Hinds said, ‘I have heard the concerns raised about this, and about the timing, and I can confirm we will be able to keep the voucher scheme open for a further six months to new entrants following representations that she has made.’
Responding to the announcement, Angela Rayner MP, shadow education secretary, said, ’Due to Labour’s pressure today, the Conservatives have now been forced to delay closing the childcare vouchers scheme for at least another six months.
‘Theresa May clearly now has neither a majority nor a mandate for abolishing childcare vouchers and they must be bring any final decision back to Parliament for a meaningful vote.’
Ms Rayner said that Labour would continue fighting on the issue and that the next Labour government would extend childcare provision and provide free school meals for all primary school children.
The move has been welcomed by voucher providers and campaigners - more than 119,000 people had signed a petition to keep the scheme open - who are now hoping that the scheme will be kept open indefinitely.
Jacquie Mills, the Chair of the Childcare Voucher Providers Association (CVPA), said, ’We were delighted to see the breadth of support for the Childcare Voucher scheme across political parties yesterday.
‘The childcare vouchers scheme is an essential lifeline to many parents and is hundreds of pounds more generous than Tax-Free Childcare for those on middle and lower incomes.
‘We have been strong advocates for keeping childcare vouchers open alongside Tax-Free Childcare so that parents can make an informed choice about the childcare support that best suits their needs.
‘We are pleased that the government has delayed the closure of the scheme for six months and we hope that this will allow them to realise the benefits of giving parents a choice and lead to a permanent running of both schemes.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ’Given the significant difficulties parents trying to access tax-free childcare online continue to face, delaying the closure of childcare voucher schemes to new entrants is clearly a sensible decision by Government.
"With take-up of tax-free childcare still much lower than originally expected and valid concerns continuing to be raised about the level of support the scheme offers to lower-income families, we would suggest that Government uses this time to reflect on the effectiveness of the tax-free childcare policy and whether the scheme alone is the best way to provide adequate support to all families who need it.’
According to research by voucher provider Sodexo Engage ,57 per cent of households would be worse off without vouchers. They said that by having both childcare vouchers and Tax-Free Childcare available, parents would be empowered to choose whichever option is best for their families.
James Malia, director of Employee Benefits at Sodexo Engage, said, ’The decision by Parliament to potentially overturn the Government’s attempt to abolish childcare vouchers by voting to keep the scheme open for another six months is fantastic news for working parents and employers. Working parents across the UK rely on employer-supported childcare vouchers to save hundreds, if not thousands of pounds each year on childcare.’