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Labour pledges to expand free childcare programme

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Enhanced 30-hour scheme will benefit parents of two-, three- and four-year-olds, Corbyn to say
Author: 
Crerar, Pippa
Publication Date: 
25 Sep 2018
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Labour will extend the government’s 30 hours of free childcare programme to the parents of all two-, three- and four-year-olds as the party moves a step closer to providing universal support for all families with young children.

Jeremy Corbyn will announce on Wednesday that the expanded scheme would benefit more than a million children, claiming the existing “patchy” support on offer is holding back too many families and not reaching the least well-off.

Families on the lowest incomes would also be eligible for additional subsidised hours on top of the 30 hours, which would be free for them and cost no more than £4 per hour for those on the highest incomes.

In his keynote speech to Labour conference, Corbyn is expected to say: “Opportunity matters most in the earliest years of life. It is a crucial time to open up children’s life chances. Driving up standards of childcare will make that vital difference for millions of our children.”

Since January, families where both parents are working more than 16 hours a week but earning under £100,000 each have qualified for the 30-hour scheme, which expanded the number of free hours for three- and four-year-olds from 15 a week.

However, the Department for Education’s own research shows that less than 25% of families earning under £20,000 are using their 30-hour free entitlement, compared with 58% of families earning more than £45,000. Only 40% of two-year-olds qualify.

“If a two-year-old doesn’t get a place in nursery then that two-year-old is likely to have a smaller vocabulary than other children, less social awareness, probably achieve less in primary school,” Corbyn said on Tuesday.

“We’ve got to give all our children the very, very best start in life … Giving children a chance in life means they achieve more, and do you know what? When children achieve more, we achieve more.”

Corbyn will also pledge to increase average early years funding rates to help the many childcare providers that are struggling – some have even closed – as a result of the 30-hour policy, which they argue is not properly funded.

He will also set out plans to establish a national pay scale to raise standards of care by creating a graduate-led workforce, improving skill levels of staff.

The childcare system would be simplified for parents with the launch of a national childcare online access portal, which would replace the existing complicated mix of vouchers and credits.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “The direction of these proposals is certainly the right one – additional support for parents, a greater emphasis on supporting and valuing the early years workforce, and a focus on raising and maintaining quality across the sector.

“But, as always, the devil is in the detail and we would need to see a lot more detail on how these proposals have been individually costed to feel reassured that this plan is indeed sustainable – or even possible – in the long term.”

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Entered Date: 
25 Sep 2018
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