Campaigners, parents and the early-years sector in England have welcomed a major extension of state support for childcare costs, but warned that the plans would take years to come into effect and fail without sufficient funding.

In a move that was met with delight by parents but given a cautious welcome by campaigners, the cchancellor, Jeremy Hunt, confirmed a £4bn expansion of free hours of childcare for all preschool children from nine months from 2025, and promised extended wraparound care for school-age children by 2026.

As part of a wider drive to help people into work and boost growth, the plan will provide an extra 30 hours a week during term time to parents of children from the age of nine months to two years, matching the existing offering for three- and four-year-olds.

“I don’t want any parents with a child under five to be prevented from working if they want to, because it’s damaging to our economy and unfair mainly to women,” said Hunt, as he claimed the move would reduce childcare costs for families by nearly 60%.

But an increase in the number of two-year-olds each adult can look after in a childcare setting from 1:4 to 1:5 was met with anger by campaigners.

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