Labour pledge free childcare for two to four year olds

Labour has launched its manifesto today and is pledging to extend 30 ‘free’ hours to all two year olds.

NDNA is concerned that these plans are overly ambitious while nurseries are struggling to gear up for the existing extension to three and four-year-olds of working parents.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of 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. Our latest evidence shows that the average nursery in England is underfunded per child per year by £958 and by £1020 in Scotland. We now have a situation where nurseries want to offer these free hours for parents but just to cover their costs, have to increase fees for paid-for hours.

“This underfunding has 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.

“In England alone, the plan to double funded childcare to 30 hours from September is a major concern, with only 44% of nurseries expecting to participate. This pattern is repeated across Wales and Scotland where similar commitments are proposed.

“NDNA has set out its radical new Childcare Passport proposal to all political parties. This would use the online accounts already being set up for Tax Free Childcare to pool all current, complex funding streams into one simple account which parents would manage and use to pay their choice of provider. 

Our election manifesto calls on the next government to work with us on this plan which, with the right investment, could allow ambitious ‘free’ childcare plans to become a reality.”