Autumn Budget 2017: Chancellor accused of ignoring early years funding crisis

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Early years and childcare failed to receive a name-check in the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget speech today, with criticism from sector organisations and teaching unions for the Government’s failure to address the lack of investment.


Chancellor Philip Hammond

The National Day Nurseries Association and the Pre-school Learning Alliance both warned that rises to the National Living Wage, which should be welcomed, would only add to the financial pressure on early years providers.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in his speech that the living wage will rise from £7.50 an hour to £7.83 from April.

Chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance Neil Leitch said, ‘Today’s Budget was an opportunity for the Government to secure the long-term future of childcare providers across this country. Instead, it has risked plunging the early years sector further into a funding crisis. 

‘The Chancellor’s announcement of an increase in the national living wage should, in theory, be warmly welcomed by a workforce which has long been underpaid – and there’s no doubt that pay in the early years sector needs to increase. But without being matched by an increase in Government funding – and given that staff wages make up around 70-80 per cent of childcare providers’ overall costs – this move will only serve to compound providers’ struggles at a time when a lack of government investment is threatening their long-term sustainability.

‘Ignoring the childcare funding crisis won’t make it go away. Every week we hear from nurseries, pre-schools and childminders – all of them passionate, quality providers – who are being forced out of business because they simply cannot make the 30 hours work. If ministers want to continue to promote ‘free’ childcare, they should make sure they – and not parents or providers – are paying for it.’

National Day Nurseries Association’s (NDNA) chief executive Purnima Tanuku, said, ‘This budget has increased the business costs that private, independent and voluntary nurseries must pay and done nothing to alleviate the challenges that the sector is facing.

‘With significant rises in national living wage and national minimum wage taking place in April, along with 1 per cent pension contribution increases and 3 per cent inflation, nursery businesses are expected to deliver 30-hour funded places on paltry frozen rates announced yesterday.

‘The Chancellor has given a clear message that this Government is not interested in properly investing in early years and just expects the sector to get on with it while faced with all these increases. NDNA will continue to lobby the government to address this appalling situation until a fair hourly funding rate and business rates relief for nurseries are forthcoming.’

On Facebook Kay Gregory commented, ‘So minimum wage is to be increased to £7.83ph. I was planning on taking on an assistant but that's out the window now. 43p may not sound a lot, but it is when your hourly rate is only £4.50 ph.’

Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice, the union for education professionals, said she was ‘deeply disappointed that the fundamental funding, staffing and workload crises hitting schools, colleges and the early years – and those who work in them – have not been addressed.

‘There is nothing to address the frozen funding, rising costs and staff shortages in early years and childcare. A career and national pay structure is desperately needed to support the Government’s early years workforce strategy.

‘While investment in technical education is welcome, other areas of learning – many of which support the most vulnerable in our society – have been scaled back. Over one million adult learners have been lost from further education, and thousands of talented staff have left the sector as their jobs have been cut and their pay and conditions eroded.

‘This piecemeal budget has failed the dedicated professionals who work in education and the early years.’

Schools and colleges

The Chancellor announced an extra £40m to train maths teachers. He also reiterated a commitment to three million apprenticeships starts by 2020, announcing an extra £20m for colleges to prepare for the new T Levels.

There will also be a £600 premium for schools for each student taking A-level maths; tripling the number of science teachers to 12,000; and a new national centre for computing; and a national training scheme for digital skills.

However, there was no new funding announced to address real-term cuts to education.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said, ’The Government had a big political choice to make in today’s budget – to invest in education, or to continue with its damaging policy of real terms cuts.  The Budget, with no significant new money for education, shows that the Government has chosen to ignore the anger of parents and the clear evidence of the problems being created by real terms cuts to education.  Parents and teachers will be deeply disappointed.      
‘Despite the worsening teacher recruitment and retention crisis and the huge real terms cuts in teacher pay since 2010, the Chancellor had nothing to offer teachers or the profession.  Instead of school staff losing jobs or seeing the value of their pay cut, the Government needs to invest in those working in education.
‘The budget has failed the key tests the National Education Union set for the Government on education funding.  The Chancellor has failed to reverse the real terms education cuts; failed to provide new money to fully fund all areas of education; failed to level-up funding to address historic underfunding; and failed to guarantee the investment needed for future years. 
‘We note the announcement of £42m for teacher training, which translates to about £1,000 per teacher in selected schools. The only credible response to the widespread and worsening teacher recruitment problems is to properly invest in education, including fully funded proper pay levels across the profession, not sticking-plaster solutions like this that have not worked in the past.’ 

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers CEO Mark Dawe said, ‘We welcome the new investment in digital skills.  To help reverse the alarming forecasts on UK productivity however, basic digital skills training should be incorporated and funded within every apprenticeship.
'The Chancellor said that he would keep under review how apprenticeship levy money is spent. It should be a very short review because it is far too early to dilute levy spend on anything other than apprenticeships, especially after a 61 per cent drop in programme starts since the levy was introduced.
'We have no issue with the youth rate of the national minimum wage being raised because social mobility is as much about a young person being able to afford to live as the offer of a job or apprenticeship. But over the longer term with the downgraded growth forecasts in mind, we must remain mindful of what employers can afford – there is a balance to be struck. 

‘The social mobility agenda will have been better served if the new investment in post-16 level 3 maths had also been accompanied by addressing the inequitable funding in the functional skills alternative at this age for maths and English.  Action has to be taken to improve attainment in the applied learning of these subjects which employers clearly want - £471 per learner doesn’t begin to do it. 

‘We’re concerned that those who can are getting more while those that can’t never will.'

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