Budget 2023: Jeremy Hunt makes childcare the new battleground in politics -Dlight News

Budget 2023: Jeremy Hunt makes childcare the new battleground in politics

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good afternoon Jeremy Hunt has just presented his first budget. We’ll have more on the policies within it elsewhere in the FT and in tomorrow’s notes. You can follow the latest reaction to the speech on our live blog but for now, some thoughts from me on big picture politics: Hunt’s ambitious childcare pledge and his attempt to get UK growth back on track.

This special edition of Inside Politics is edited by Gordon Smith. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb And please send gossip, ideas and feedback to insidepolitics@ft.com

The kids are fine

The biggest — and in my view, the best — thing Jeremy Hunt did in his speech was to extend 30 hours of free childcare for children aged nine months and over. It ends a strange quirk in UK childcare policy, where state support disappears at the end of a period of shared parental leave and doesn’t reappear until the age of three (children, apparently, don’t need food, shelter or care).

The changes won’t come into full force until September 2025, but the key political change is that Hunt has completed the gradual expansion of a new part of the state’s responsibility: providing all children with so-called covered childcare after the age of nine months. There is much to criticize about the “30 free hours” model, not least that the state subsidizes providers less than what it costs to put them in, which is one reason the costs outside those 30 hours are so high, then Whether it’s in the form of working longer hours for parents, or extra expenses for lunch or other services.

But zoom out and what indeed The facts are that by 2025 the British state will be in the business of providing or subsidizing some form of childcare from zero to 18 years of age. It’s a permanent shift in British politics that isn’t going anywhere.

One of the lessons of the 2010-17 period is that democracy is rare off Once they start providing public services. They could be subject to severe cuts that could seriously limit their effectiveness — just ask anyone who’s had their bike stolen or recently been exposed to the NHS — but they don’t actually do that. off provides them.

For the moment, that’s a headache for Labour, which wants to make childcare one of its big dividing lines in the next election. Although there were plenty of important technical debates about exactly how Hunt’s pledge would be fulfilled, the next election would be to cover child care in the 1945 election of free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare, when both parties agreed to fulfill it. promises to give (it may be some rest for labor that it win That one, of course).

In the long run, it will be a headache for future Chancellors of the Exchequer, who will not be able to easily abdicate this new responsibility.

Keir and sandwiches

One reason for Jeremy Hunt’s heavy focus on childrearing is overtly political: the “sandwich generation” — that is, parents over 65 and children under 18 — is a major political battleground in most democracies for obvious reasons. As a conservative strategist recently put it to me:

Basically, politics is who you are [government] Can reach and touch. Working age people with good jobs and no kids, basically, they want you to deal with crime and potholes. But it’s the people who care for their children, or their parents or grandparents, who really notice the nonsense of healthcare, schools, child care, and they’re the people you can reach out to and touch. , and that’s why they will be the people in focus

Their childcare pledge is a big offer for one of the groups you can “reach out and touch” with the levers of government policy. But it is Also Of course, this Budget is trying to do a big part of something else, which is to boost UK growth and put more people into work. Hunt has done a number of sensible things on this, from allowing businesses to immediately cut investment spending for the next three years to changing pension entitlements.

Of course, good growth is one of the things most people notice – those of us who are not in the group that the government can easily “reach out and touch”. And good growth means that tough choices on taxes and spending become easier for Hunt, and it means that he’s making some of the promises he’s been making about never-never (like increasing defense spending when circumstances allow). Some will be deliverables.

He has continued Darlingesque measures in many ways from his last fiscal: measures to protect households from continued energy price shocks in the short term, and then some very sharp and painful spending cuts after the next election. Unless, of course, its moves to seek growth mean it has more room for maneuver than we currently expect.

In some ways this is a “you may lose, tails I win” bet for the Hunt. If what he does succeeds in getting growth and generating a feel-good factor this side of the election, the Conservatives will be re-elected. If it doesn’t work, it will be Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves’ problem.

Try this now

It’s good to see some support for the UK video games industry in the Budget: a beneficiary of what was then a world-leading tax break by George Osborne but an increasingly neglected industry in recent years (the UK is the third largest, behind only the US and Japan).

Either way, an excellent recent British video game that is well worth your time Citizen sleeper, which essentially runs on nothing. Our sports critic Tom Faber put it on his best of 2022 list.

Today’s top stories

  • ‘Budget for Growth’ | The Chancellor put £9bn business tax breaks at the heart of his statement.

  • What does a budget mean for your money? FT reporters explain.

  • Pension tension eased | Consumer editor Claire Barrett explains what the tax cap relief means for your pension.

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