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‘A momentous moment’: campaigners hail Hunt’s childcare pledge – but vow to keep fighting

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As the chancellor stood up to deliver his spring budget on Wednesday, Joeli Brearley sat in the lobby of a hotel near parliament crouched over her laptop, headphones on, eyes glued to the screen.The Pregnant Then Screwed founder had read the Guardian’s story about the promise of 30 free hours a week for all children under five the night before, but after many leaks and denials wouldn’t let herself hope.

Then, after waiting for more than 50 minutes Jeremy Hunt confirmed it.“I just burst into tears and put a big napkin over my face,” says Brearley, who founded the anti-maternity discrimination campaign group eight years ago. “To actually hear him say those words was truly a breathtaking moment.”Under the government’s childcare proposals all preschool children in England will receive 30 government-funded hours during term time from 2025, with an “ambition” for all state primaries to provide wraparound care from 2026.Experts have been quick to point out the plan’s flaws.

The current “free” hours provision for three-to-four-year-olds isunderfunded and has caused thousands of providers to shut – a promised £240m increase was far short of the £1.8bn needed.

The £4.2bn for the new hours would not meet the £5.2bn cost. Demand already outstrips supply, and in a tight labour market badly paid workers are leaving the sector in droves.

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