The prime minister has been unable to guarantee a childcare place to everyone that wants one, as the government rolls out its new scheme.

Eligible parents and carers of two-year-olds are now entitled to 15 hours of funded childcare per week, as of Monday 1 April, with further extensions planned.

The policy was announced in March last year and is being rolled out as the government lags significantly behind Labour in opinion polls ahead of the upcoming general election.

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What is the government’s childcare policy?

From 1 April this year, eligible working parents of children aged two and up have been able to get 15 hours of free childcare support.

From September this year, these 15 hours will extend to eligible parents of those aged nine months plus.

Finally, the government wants all children aged from nine months to five years to be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare from September 2025 – although this will be well after the next general election.

But there have been concerns raised about the ability for the sector to absorb the uptick in childcare places which the government wants to offer.

Asked whether he could guarantee everyone who wanted a place would get one, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was unable to provide a concrete assurance.

He told BBC Radio Newcastle that it was “really important to build capacity in the sector”.

Mr Sunak added that the government was working to increase the number of childcare workers, saying it has “cut a lot of red tape” – including making it easier to become a childminder and change locations.

He also pointed to a trial offering £1,000 to people who join the sector.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was previously unable to confirm everyone would get a place.

Government figures collated by the Department for Education show that the number of childcare providers in England fell from 59,400 in 2022 to 56,300 in 2023.

However, the number of places on offer increased from 1,543,000 to 1,558,100, and the number of paid staff went from 334,400 to 347,300.

Labour has released what it calls a “dossier of childcare chaos” attacking what it calls a “childcare pledge without a plan”.

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‘A pledge without a plan’

Using figures from regulator Ofsted, Labour claims the number of childcare places available fell by 1,000 last year, rather than rising by around 15,000 as the government stats found.

Asked about the discrepancy, Ms Keegan said: “Ofsted doesn’t have complete data – they only have the people who have registered with them.

“So it doesn’t include pre-schools, those ones that are attached to schools – it also doesn’t include childminders.

“So as usual, Labour are looking at the wrong data and looking at the wrong end of the stick.”

Labour has launched a review into early education and childcare, headed by former Ofsted inspector Sir David Bell, to “deliver the accessible, affordable early years education that will give children the best start in life”.

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The Conservatives capitalised on this by claiming the opposition wants to scrap its policy rollout.

In a letter to the Labour frontbench, Ms Keegan said this had caused “uncertainty in the market” as childcare bosses are “unsure whether they should invest in expanding their business”.