In a recent speech, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson set out Labour’s plans to overhaul childcare in England to make it work better for families. However, the big question remains as to whether this will have an impact on levelling up communities.
Phillipson told the gathering that “extortionate” costs were “pricing parents out of jobs they love”. In contrast to the Chancellor’s plans to offer more free hours, the Shadow Education Secretary said that Labour would move away from the current system which was “broken”.
She told the Conservative think tank that Labour would provide support from the end of parental leave until children leave primary school aged 11.
As Labour formulate their policy agenda, the Labour Party say that they will publish more details in due course. The announcement follows the publication of a report by charity Coram that found the average annual cost of a full-time nursery place for a child under two in Great Britain is now £14,836.
As Labour tries to position itself as the “party of the family”, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt briefed overnight that the Government will be extending free childcare to one- and two-year-olds in the Budget to be announced later today.
Ahead of the announcement, Phillipson said Labour rejected that approach.
“Simply bolting more hours onto a failing system will not tackle the problem of availability and will not tackle the problem of affordability,” she said.
Phillipson said the current system of childcare support is “complex and confused”. Pointing to the rejection of the Chancellor’s plans by industry bodies, she said that the plans would not cut costs.
The Chancellor has been under pressure from Conservative MPs to extend support to parents as part of plans to encourage people back to work.
The current system
In England, currently all three and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week in term time, or 38 weeks a year.
Two-year-olds can also get up to 15 hours of free childcare under certain circumstances, whilst parents who contribute to a tax free scheme can get up to £2,000 a year in government top-ups.
How will it be paid for?
In an interview with the BBC following the speech, the Shadow Education Secretary did not give any details of how the party would fund its future scheme.
However, she did say that a new plan on childcare would be a priority for Labour, highlighting that childcare would be a “central” issue at the next election.
Philipson has recently visited Estonia and Australia to gain inspiration for Labour’s future policy and is looking at models of childcare delivered in Singapore and Ireland.
With much speculation over whether Labour would re-introduce Sure Start centres, heralded as a significant achievement of the last Labour government, Phillipson confirmed that no new centres were planned.
Phillipson said told the BBC centres had “made a massive difference” to children’s lives but they had too often failed to prioritise education and healthcare.
A new model is not exactly an easy line to take when the Chancellor is going to announce an extension of free provision.
However, the fact is the current system is broken and is not working to help people back to work. On Phillipson’s speech, she is absolutely right to highlight this point.
The big question is whether Labour’s plans or the current Government’s plans will actually level up communities in reality. While the rhetoric is right, Labour need to outline how many more parents will be able to get into work as a result of their revised plans.
On a speech that was right in ideas, and weak on detail, it will be important for Labour to set out their vision for parents. However, managing expectations, this is going to be a hard sell after the Budget announcement today.
Policy institute, Curia will be hosting an inquiry session on education and skills as part of their Levelling Up Commission, to find out more contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Image: Bridget Phillipson visits Highfield Academy)