Labour promises £500m to reverse Sure Start cuts

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Labour Government would bring in a ring-fenced grant of £500m a year for children’s centres and offer universal early education for two-to four-year-olds.

The plan was announced by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner who told delegates at the party’s annual conference in Brighton, ‘I am proud to say that we will give £500m a year directly to Sure Start, reversing those cuts in full. Because to give every child a fair chance to succeed, we need to give them the best possible start in life.

‘For far too many that simply isn’t happening. The Tories promised free childcare to the children of working parents. They promised over 600,000 places. But they created less than a quarter of them. The most disadvantaged aren’t even eligible and costs are rising more than twice as fast as wages.

‘Today, we are publishing a report setting out the alternative. Free, high-quality early education, universally available for every two- to four-year-old, and extra affordable care for every family, saving them thousands of pounds a year. So our children will be ready for school. And when children arrive, they won’t be let down for a lack of resources there either.’

The £500m figure is based on new analysis by Labour which claims that £437m has been cut from DfE spending on Sure Start since 2012.

Ms Rayner also said that Labour would today publish a draft charter outlining the principles of a National Education Service for a cradle-to-grave education system ‘supporting everyone throughout their lives. It would start in the early years, where we know it has the most impact in changing people’s lives – just like my life was changed by a Labour Government.

‘When I became pregnant at 16, it was easy to think that the direction of my life, and that of my young son, was already set,’ she said. ‘My mum had a difficult life, and so did I, and it looked as if my son would simply have the same.

‘Instead, the last Labour Government, through support of my local Sure Start centre, transformed my son’s childhood, and made sure that his life would not have to be as hard as mine had been. So when I say that politics changes lives, I say it as someone whose own life was changed.’

The National Day Nurseries Association said it supported the principle of universal free childcare but that nurseries could only deliver it if they were paid at least an hourly rate that covered their costs.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the NDNA, said, ‘This promise of universal free childcare is a huge challenge which any future government would need time to plan and develop properly. We believe that current problems with free childcare need to be addressed as a matter of urgency before developing anything further.

‘The shadow education minister’s speech acknowledged the importance of investing in a child’s early years to give them the best start in life. But this needs to be matched with real investment to make it a success.'

Recruitment crisis

Ms Tanuku added, ‘Ms Rayner also spoke about the importance of high quality early education in preparing children properly for school. But this can only be achieved by specific investment in the early years workforce, in order to reverse the current recruitment crisis that nurseries across the country are experiencing.

‘The sector is struggling to attract and retain high quality candidates who can find better paid but lower qualified jobs elsewhere, particularly in the retail sector. This is largely due to endemic low pay in the sector, ironically caused by years of chronic underfunding by successive Governments offering parents pledges of free childcare.’

Awarding body City & Guilds ‘applauded’ the announcement of free early years education and extra affordable care for families regardless of circumstances, saying it would help more parents work and provide better care for children.

But Suzi Gray, technical adviser, early years, said recruitment was still a major problem for the sector and called for further detail on how the policy would work in practice for providers.

‘It is worth noting that owing to the recruitment problems experienced in recent years, there are already significant concerns about meeting demand in this sector,’ she said. ‘Therefore, any expansion of free childcare must come alongside a focus on supporting recruitment and training for those working in early years care and education, including promoting better careers advice in schools and encouraging greater use of apprenticeships.

'We would also like to see a review of the financial support available for employers to enable them to expand their provision.’

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