My hon. Friend has consistently campaigned on issues around childcare over many years and I am grateful to her. She is exactly right to raise those concerns, as well as the work that she did in exposing how the Government knowingly and deliberately underfunded the early years entitlement—the 30-hour offer—to parents. I pay tribute to her for that.
The Government are failing parents and children alike, because it is during the first few years that the attainment gap opens up for our children. It is also the first chance to step in and support the children and families who need it. We all see the difference that early support makes—when it happens and when it does not. In power, Labour acted decisively to support families and children, tackle the disadvantage and close the gap. A generation grew up with children’s centres. A generation such as mine were supported after 16 with the education maintenance allowance. I saw in my community the difference that those changes made. I see it in the lives of young people who grew up with that advantage, with the support that it unlocked. Some 20 years later, the evidence around attainment and early intervention is clearer and stronger than it was even then, yet the Government have been almost silent. Even before covid, children on free school meals were arriving at school five months behind their peers. That gap is set to grow. It is utterly shameful in Britain in 2022 and a damning indictment of the Government’s 12 years in power.
Right now, our children are being failed again in this cost of living crisis. When parents cannot afford to feed their kids, children are being failed. When parents cannot afford to take their kids out for the day and cannot afford an ice cream at the park or a ride at the fair, children are being failed. When mams and dads do not see their kids in the evening or at the weekend because they are working every hour that God sends to pay the bills, children are being failed. When parents skimp on food and are exhausted, without time and energy to spend with their kids, children are being failed. And when the cost of childcare, not just for two to four-year-olds but from the end of maternity leave to the start of secondary school—I am talking about parents being able to choose whether to go back to work; affordable breakfast clubs; after-school activities so parents do not have to rush back for 3 o’clock pick-ups; after-school clubs costing more than women’s median wages; and parents paying over the odds for each hour of childcare, because the Conservatives decided that the Government would not pay the going rate for the places they promised—is quite literally pricing people out of parenting, children and families are being failed. That failure is not just about the individual kids and the individual families failed by this Government, although there are millions of them and that is bad enough. Our whole country is failed when we let our children down.
This Government have no plan, no ideas, no vision and no sense of responsibility to our children and their future—the rhetoric of evidence, but no reality. We have responsibility, ambition and determination for our children. We would deliver the plan that children need now, because education is all about opportunity—the opportunities that we give all our children to explore and develop, to achieve and thrive, and to have a happy and healthy childhood. Through a broad and enriching curriculum and education, we can foster a love of learning that stays with them throughout their lives, turning our young people into the scientists, musicians, entrepreneurs, sportspeople and, yes, perhaps even the politicians of the future, generating ideas and innovation that we cannot even dream of.
Education can transform every life, just as it transformed mine. Growing up, we did not always have it easy, but I know that in many ways I was very lucky: I had a family in which I was supported and encouraged to read and where education was valued. I was lucky to attend a great local state school at a time when the last Labour Government were transforming education across our country. My teachers were fiercely ambitious for me and my friends because they believed in the value and worth of every single one of us. I want every child in every school, in every corner of this country, to benefit from a brilliant education, supported by a Government who are ambitious for their future. That is why we would make private schools pay their fair share—not to tilt the system, as the Secretary of State claims, but to support every child across our great state schools to realise their ambitions.
Today the Minister has a choice. He could stand up and deliver a speech that I suspect we have heard a couple of times before, he could continue the hollow attacks on the last Labour Government, despite no child today having been at school when we were in office—or he could stand up and, like the Chancellor, admit that the Government got it wrong. He could say that they should have acted sooner, but that they will act now to match at last the ambition of Labour’s children’s recovery plan and put our children and their future first.