Childcare and the election campaign

Childcare will be a key issue for working parents in this election. So how do the three main parties line up?

early years education funding

 

Childcare – both its cost and its availability – are set to be big issues for working parents voting in this year’s general election. So what are the different parties offering?

First out of the tracks was Labour earlier this week. It announced plans to create over 3,000 new nursery classes in schools in England, freeing up more than 100,000 new nursery places for children from nine months old.

The party says spare school classrooms will be converted into high quality spaces for nurseries” paid for by ending the tax breaks private schools enjoy”. It adds that it will continue with the Government’s two-year roll-out of ‘free’ childcare to children from nine months onwards. Childcare providers have said they are worried that they will not be able to deliver the places needed for eligible children. They are also concerned about the funding of the ‘free’ places and the ongoing recruitment crisis for childcare professionals.

Labour has also previously announced plans to provide free breakfast clubs in every primary school in England, paid for by ending tax loopholes and clamping down on tax evasion.

Parent groups have welcomed the announcement about nursery classes. Joeli Brierley from Pregnant Then Screwed said: “There is little point in reducing the cost of childcare for parents if they cannot access a place, and with long waiting lists, and childcare deserts across England, it is imperative we do not continue to paper over the cracks. Unless decisive action on availability is taken soon, parents will find themselves in a mess. Pregnant Then Screwed welcomes this announcement as a first stage plan to reform the sector.”

Childcare providers says sustained funding and addressing the recruitment crisis are vital if any plans to extend provision are to be delivered.

Purnima Tanuku, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association, added: “”It will be important to ensure that spaces are suitable and age appropriate environments for younger children. Drawing on the experience of established providers by working in partnership with them will be important.

“Any plans should be done in consultation with communities to ensure it is meeting the needs of local families and not duplicate or displace existing high-quality provision. Threatening the sustainability of existing pre-schools and nurseries will not help children or families.”

Liberal Democrats

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have put care at the centre of their manifesto, published on Monday. They say they will review the rates paid to providers for free hours to ensure they cover the actual costs of delivering high-quality childcare and early years education and develop a career strategy for nursery staff, including a training programme with the majority of those working with children aged two to four to have a relevant Early Years qualification or be working towards one.

Other family-focused pledges include making all parental pay and leave day-one rights, including for adoptive parents and kinship carers, and extending them to self-employed parents; doubling Statutory Maternity and Shared Parental Pay to £350 a week; scrapping the two-child limit on means-tested benefits; increasing pay for paternity leave to 90% of earnings, with a cap for high earners; introducing an extra use-it-or-lose-it month for fathers and partners, paid at 90% of earnings, with a cap for high earners; requiring large employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies; and introducing a ‘Toddler Top-Up’: an enhanced rate of Child Benefit for one-year-olds. In the longer term, when the public finances allow, they want to give six weeks of use-it-or-lose-it leave for each parent, paid at 90% of earnings and grant parents 46 weeks of parental leave to share between themselves as they choose, paid at double the current statutory rate.

In addition, the Lib Dems plan to overhaul the Carer’s Allowance system “so that it provides real financial support to those who need it”, set up new mental health hubs for young people and a dedicated, qualified mental health professional in every school, establish free personal care and offer a higher minimum wage for care workers.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said there are clear risks that the package, which the Lib Dems say will be funded mainly through taxing banks, energy companies and tech giants,  would not raise the £27 billion a year that they claim, with the majority of the money being targeted at health, education and defence, leaving departments such as prisons, courts and local government at risk.

Conservatives

The Conservatives have pledged to continue with their roll-out of the extension of up to 30 hours a week of ‘free’ childcare for children from nine months old. The roll-out is happening gradually, but will eventually build to 30 hours a week [during term-time] for children from nine months old by next September. Childcare providers are very concerned about funding, given the ‘free’ childcare for three and four years olds has been underfunded for years and given the staff recruitment crisis. The Conservatives also announced a major recruitment drive for early years workers earlier this year.

The Green Party

There was not much on childcare from the Greens, bar free breakfast clubs to year 6. However, they did pledge an increase in the minimum wage to £15 an hour for all ages, with the costs to small businesses offset by reducing their National Insurance payments; equal employment rights for all workers from their first day of employment, including those working in the ‘gig economy’ and on zero-hours contracts; and a move to a four-day working week.

On benefits, they are promising to increase Universal Credit and legacy benefits by £40 a week; abolish the two-child benefit cap, lifting 250,000 children out of poverty; end the ‘bedroom tax’; and, in the long term, introduce a universal basic income.



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