Labour has today branded the government’s new childcare plans “pathetic”.

The government said that in order to “drive down costs for providers and parents” it will consider slashing required staff-to-child ratios from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds.

Childcare for children aged 0-2 is the most expensive for providers to deliver, largely given the need for higher supervision levels.

The government argued that these plans could reduce the cost of such childcare by up to 15 per cent, or up to £40 per week for a family paying £265 per week for care for their 2-year-old.

The government currently offers 15 hours per week of free childcare or early education for all 

3- and 4-year-olds, rising to 30 hours for working families, and 15 hours for disadvantaged 2-year-olds.

The government also highlighted the reduced costs of childminders compared to nurseries and said they would give people in this role new flexibility, such as allowing them to work in a local community centre rather than their own home and “reducing” their Ofsted checks.

The government has also announced an additional £10 million investment for Maintained Nursery Schools.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the announcement  was “pathetic” and that it “fails to deliver the ambition families need to tackle spiralling childcare costs.”

She continued: “Tweaking ratios is not the answer parents want and not the answer children need. The vast majority of providers have made clear this would make no difference to costs for parents. What’s more, parents have said the current system of tax-free childcare is too complex to use even once explained. The government is out of ideas and failing children and families alike.”

Joeli Brearley told The Guardian that research by her charity Pregnant Then Screwed, found that just 2 per cent of nurseries and preschools would reduce fees if the plans went ahead – as they would be unlikely to relax ratios – and that those who did would only lower fees by around £2 per week.

Brearley explained: “We’re furious that after months and months of talking to the government, showing them data that, for two-thirds of families, childcare costs the same or more than their rent or mortgage and is pushing parents into poverty, children into poverty, they’ve come up with a proposal to change ratios that won’t reduce costs for parents but will just reduce quality.

Annabel Denham of free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs said that “[childcare] subsidies cost the taxpayer at least £6bn per year, yet parents here pay on average three times more than those in France or Germany. It is, therefore, encouraging that ministers are exploring how deregulation – rather than yet more government spending that would fail to address the underlying problems – can drive down costs.

“The renewed emphasis on childminders, whose numbers plummeted as the sector became increasingly formalised, is welcome,” but that: “As with any attempt to slash red tape, these measures will be met with fierce opposition by vested interests – such as companies that have already had to adapt to these restrictive rules, or individuals who believe the state can do a better job of raising children than parents. Ministers should proceed regardless.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady accused the government of making childcare policies “on the hoof”, stating that while “high-quality affordable childcare should be available for all… too many parents are spending a massive slice of their pay packets on rising childcare costs, while their wages stagnate. 

“These proposals won’t help. Cutting staffing ratios will just put more pressure on underpaid and undervalued childcare workers,” she went on.

The cost of childcare for parents with children under two has increased by more than £2,000 a year since 2010, according to a recent analysis published by the trade union.

Minister for children and families Will Quince upon the publication of the new plans: “I’m proud of the excellent quality of childcare and early education in England, which is a huge asset to working parents. But too many are struggling to balance work with childcare costs.

He went on: “We know there are thousands of parents who are eligible for government support but not taking it up. That’s why we want to increase awareness of the existing childcare offers, allow providers to provide services more flexibly and make sure funding gets where it is needed most.