Labour manifesto recognises importance of early years

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A Labour government would extend 30 hours of childcare to all two-year-olds, and provide more money for Sure Start, states the much anticipated final manifesto launched this morning by Jeremy Corbyn in Bradford.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

The costings document published alongside states that Labour would spend £5.3 billion on early years and Sure Start, out of a total of an extra 48.6 billion a year.

A draft version of the manifesto was leaked to the press last week.

The final version of the manifesto includes previously announced plans, but is published alongside a short document summarising how the party intends to fund its proposals through taxation and spending.

The early years, education and family pledges include:

  • Extend the 30 hours to all two-year-olds, and move towards making some childcare available for one-year-olds and extending maternity pay to 12 months;
  • a National Education service from ‘cradle-to-grave’;
  • overhaul existing childcare system, in which susbsidies are given directly to parents, and transition to a system of high-quality childcare places in mixed environments with direct government subsidy;
  • maintain current commitments on free hours and make significant capital investment during first two years of Government, to ensure that places exist to meet demand;
  • phase in subsidised provision on top of free-hour entitlements, to ensure everyone has access to affordable childcare, no matter their working pattern;
  • transition to a qualified graduate-led workforce, by increasing staff wages and enhancing training to benefit staff ‘who are among our worst-paid workers’, and improve child development;
  • Schools funding would increase to £6.3bn, including protection against losses from the new funding formula, free school meals and arts pupil premium.

 

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘We know that the first five years of a child's life are vital to long-term learning and development and that investing in the early years not only benefits families, but society as a whole. As such, it is positive to see the importance of quality early years care and education recognised in Labour's manifesto.

'That said, experience has taught us to be sceptical of claims of fully-costed, fully-funded "free childcare” schemes.

‘As we've seen with the existing 30-hour offer for working families, if such policies aren't adequately funded, many providers simply won't engage with them – our recent survey revealed that less than half of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in England plan to deliver the current offer for three- and four-year-olds.

‘As such, as is always the case, the devil is in the detail. If Labour’s policy costings are based on existing early years funding rates, which have long been insufficient, then this pledge will inevitably will be underfunded.

‘What’s more, it’s unclear from the manifesto whether Labour has factored inevitable future delivery cost rises into its costings. Given its promise to increase pay levels in the early years sector, and its pledge to increase the national minimum wage more generally, this is vital.

‘Add to this the fact that staff wages make up 70-80 per cent of overall provider costs, and the significant increase in staffing numbers needed to support the move to a universal offer for all two-year-olds, and it’s clear that the sector’s funding needs are likely to increase significantly over the duration of the next Parliament.

‘Ultimately there is a lot to welcome in principle in this manifesto - but only with adequate funding, based on proper costings, can such promises be delivered in practice.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, ‘Labour’s promise of free universal childcare from aged two is an ambitious pledge which would help millions of families across the UK.

‘Childcare costs in Britain are among the highest in Europe so any help offered to parents will relieve the financial burden and encourage more parents into work. Research also shows that children who receive high quality early learning will have the best life chances.

‘But the current system is not working because it is chronically under-funded. Until this funding crisis is addressed, plans to increase beyond what has already been promised are overly ambitious.

‘Ironically, the reason childcare fees are so high is under-funding for so-called free places. Successive governments have promised more and more, but have not put in anywhere near enough investment.’

The NDNA said that under-funding had led to endemic low pay within the early years sector and consequently a recruitment crisis, with practitioners abandoning low paid positions for better paid jobs elsewhere in supermarkets, for example.

‘Any realistic pledge to increase ‘free’ childcare must be backed up by a fully-costed workforce strategy with a commitment to improve salaries above the National Living Wage and make childcare an attractive career. Nurseries will not be able to meet Labour’s pledge to raise the Minimum Wage to £10 by 2020 unless there is substantial investment to pay for increased payrolls.

‘These proposals must also have the full backing of the early years sector, which must be consulted at every step of the way to make sure the plans are deliverable.’

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said, 'This manifesto puts down a marker on school funding and demonstrates that Labour is listening. The funding crisis affects 99 per cent of schools and has forced head teachers to put banners up in playgrounds to alert parents to the risks of deep cuts and what it means for their child.
 
'Labour’s commitment to Sure Start, high quality Early Years education and universal joined-up services is a sign of policy which is grounded in evidence and experience. All candidates must engage with the urgent issue of the number of nursery schools and children’s centres closing up and down the country.
 
'If we are serious about giving every child access to an enriching and enabling education, we must guarantee proper investment across all sectors of education. The Labour Party manifesto reminds us that investment decisions are political choices.'

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