A shadow cabinet minister has suggested that the Conservative Party and Jeremy Hunt as chancellor are following Labour’s lead on a number of key budget announcements expected later today.
Reports first seen in The Guardian suggest the chancellor will promise to provide 30 hours of childcare a week to working parents of one and two-year-olds as part of a multi-billion pound announcement.
The plan to offer 30 hours of free childcare to one and two-year-olds was initially a Labour idea, which the party said would be a “game changer” for parents.
Families with children aged one and two currently do not receive support after parental leave ends and before free nursery hours are offered for three and four-year-olds.
UK childcare costs are also among the most expensive in the world, with full-time fees for a child under two at nursery reaching an average of £269 a week last year or £14,000 annually.
Responding to the pre-budget rumour, expected to total £4 billion, shadow chief secretary to Pat McFadden argued the government were picking up Labour’s proposals.
He said: “This is one of a number of things we’ve called for which, if the pre-budget speculation and leaks and briefing are to be believed, that the government is going to do”.
He added: “There’s a bit of a pattern here where we call for things like extending the energy price guarantee or fuel duty — where were accused of being incredibly fiscally profligate and the rivers will run red and Labour’ s going to bankrupt the country — and a few weeks later the government adopted what we’re saying”.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr McFadden said the costs for childcare in the UK, “are so expensive for parents that it has become a workforce issue. Every business that we speak to talks about shortage of staff”.
He added: “We’re going to look at the detail of what is announced today, but Labour has been saying for some time that we need to help parents with childcare if we are serious about addressing the workforce issues.”
Mr McFadden also pointed to the government’s proposals on energy costs. It is predicted that the chancellor will extend the Energy Price Guarantee which currently caps the average annual bill at £2,500.
Mr Hunt will also cancel plans to raise this cap to £3,000, with the £2,500 annual sum continuing for three months from April. However, he is still expected to withdraw the £400 winter discount that went to every household.
Mr McFadden outlined: “I don’t mind if we lead the way as long as we do the right thing and I think its important to do that because the cost of living crisis has not gone away, people are really struggling to pay their bills and as things stood those bills were scheduled to go up another £500 pounds a year in a couple of weeks time”.
He also argued that the government’s spending need to be put under tighter scrutiny, with a series of pre-budget announcements pointing to a high-spending budget.
“There’s been quite a lot of spending announced by the government in recent days”, Mr McFadden said, “we’ve had £5 billion for defence, potentially £4 billion for this other announcement today.
“I don’t mind being asked how will you fund things, but I hope it’s a question for Conservative ministers and not just Labour spokespeople”.
It comes as the chancellor is expected to deliver his Spring Budget at 12.30pm after prime minister’s questions.
Alongside energy bills and childcare support, Mr Hunt is also predicted to announce an increase in the lifetime pension allowance, meaning the amount of money someone can save for retirement before they start to pay tax on it.
The chancellor has billed the fiscal event as a “back to work” budget.
As part of new proposals, older workers will be offered “returnerships”, meaning flexible skills training that takes into account previous experience, with a further 8,000 “skills boot camp” places added to the 56,000 currently on offer.
Meanwhile, despite calls from the right of the Conservative party to cut taxes, Hunt is widely expected to hold his ground on tax.
Next month, corporation tax is due to increase from 19% to 25% on profits over £250,000.
The change, first announced by Rishi Sunak in his 2021 Spring Budget as chancellor, is expected to bring in around £12bn per year to the Treasury, according to government projections.