I will make a brief contribution and put on record just how much progress was made under the previous Labour Government. Child care was previously regarded as something for families to deal with on their own. When Labour came to power in 1997, there was no guarantee that children had access to a nursery place. In many areas, nursery school provision was such that there simply were not the places available even when children wanted them. We should also remember the Sure Start children centres and all the work that went into them. It is important to acknowledge that a major transition was made. The fact that we are debating child care here today shows just how much progress we have made.
I recognise that Government Members want to deal with this issue. It is just unfortunate that the measures they are talking about will not come into force until after the general election, if they were to be re-elected. That is disappointing because families in my constituency need help now.
Families across the country are facing a reduction in the number of places at the same time as costs are rising. Those of us with children know just how difficult it can be to find child care that meets the needs of families now. As has been pointed out, we in this House are very fortunate in having the luxury of being in well-paid jobs that allow us to make choices, but for many of my constituents who work shifts or who are on zero-hours contracts or have insecure employment those choices simply are not available.
We have had an interesting discussion about the role of informal child care, with some useful points being made on both sides. Many families, mine included, rely on grandparents and other friends and family to help out, and they provide invaluable support and play a very useful role. I do not in any way denigrate that support, but children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds benefit the most from having access to high-quality formal child care.
When I visit nurseries and primary schools in my constituency, it becomes clear just how important for their development it is that children are given the best start in life and have access to early years child care. That enables their vocabulary to develop and gives them access to a whole range of different experiences that sometimes are not available in the home for one reason or another, whether it be poverty, domestic violence or mental health.
We have a long way to go on this issue. Labour’s policies are on the right lines. This is a sensible new clause, and I hope the Government will take action now to help families, rather than waiting until later. Families need action now.