Dad of boy who died at nursery says chancellor’s childcare plans pose ‘massive risks’

Oliver Steeper died after he choked on food at a nursery (Picture: Lewis Steeper/SWNS)

The parents of a nine-month-old boy who died when he choked on his food at a nursery has said the government’s planned childcare changes ‘puts lives at risk’.

At last week’s budget, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a proposal to increase the staff ratio at nurseries from one adult per four children to one adult per five children.

This would boost capacity, he said, allowing parents to get back to work and helping to get the economy back on track.

But Lewis and Zoe Steeper, whose son Oliver died after becoming unable to breathe while eating at his nursery in September 2021, said the idea posed a ‘massive safeguarding risk’.

Lewis said: ‘I don’t understand how the government thinks taking a staff member out of a room would somehow pass cost savings onto parents.

‘We spoke to hundreds of nurseries over the past two years during our campaign to stop these changes and not a single one of them said they would implement it, even if it went ahead.’

The couple, from Ashford in Kent, previously fought plans to change the ratio in nurseries when they were raised last year.

Together, they launched a petition on the UK parliament website which was signed more than 100,000 times, leading to a debate in the House of Commons last November.

Lewis said: ‘We made the government shelve the plans once, and we can do it again.’

A petition from Oliver’s parents, calling on the government to reconsider earlier plans to change the staff ratio in nurseries, gained more than 100,000 signatures (Picture: Lewis Steeper/SWNS)

At the Budget last Wednesday, chancellor Jeremy Hunt also unveiled plans to introduce 30 hours of free childcare for under-fives (Picture: PA)

Mr Hunt announced the plans as part of a larger package of changes to childcare in the budget, which also included 30 hours of free childcare for all under-fives from the moment maternity care ends.

That scheme is expected to cost an extra £4 billion.

However, Lewis said: ‘Unfortunately, this £4 billion they are putting into the pot is not going to make a single difference.

At Oliver Steeper’s funeral, his coffin was decorated with flowers and a stuffed toy of children’s cartoon character Duggee (Picture: Lewis Steeper/SWNS)

In the week of the funeral, Kent Police confirmed officers are investigating the circumstances that led to Oliver’s death (Picture: Lewis Steeper/SWNS)

‘It poses a massive safeguarding risk on children and puts them at significant risk.

‘We need eyes on children from nine months onwards to two years.’

He added: ‘I just wish that the government would come and spend a day in a nursery and see how people who work in these settings actually deal with these children.

‘They are underpaid, overworked, and they have been abandoned by the government for years.’

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

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