Children’s Education Recovery and Childcare Costs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:37 pm on 7th June 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Minister of State (Education) 4:37 pm, 7th June 2022

The hon. Lady raises an important point. As the parent of a nine-month-old, I definitely recognise the challenge. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, refers to the support that is available through tax-free childcare and universal credit, but of course we recognise the challenge. I have to say that I do not see anything in Labour’s plans that would fix it.

To support childcare for families with school-age children, the Government are investing more than £200 million a year in our holiday activities and food programme. The programme provides free holiday club places, with healthy meals, enriching activities and free childcare, to children from low-income families, benefiting their health, wellbeing and learning. Last summer, our programme funded free holiday places for, in total, more than 600,000 children and young people in England, including more than 495,000 children who were eligible for free school meals. That means that hundreds of thousands of children from low-income families are benefiting from healthy food and extracurricular activities, thereby helping to level up children’s educational outcomes, provide better nutrition and improve their wellbeing, behaviour and social skills.

The Government are continuing to invest more than £200 million a year in the holiday activities and food programme, with all 152 local authorities in England delivering the programme. We are also committed to continuing support for school breakfast clubs. The Department for Education is investing up to £24 million to continue its national school breakfast programme until July 2023. This funding will support up to 2,500 schools in disadvantaged areas, which means that thousands of children from lower-income families will be offered free nutritious breakfasts to better support their attainment, wellbeing and readiness to learn. The enrolment process is still open to schools that wish to sign up to the national school breakfast programme.

We recognise that we must ensure that childcare works the best it can for families’ lives now. The Government are committed to continuing to look for ways to improve the cost, choice and availability of childcare. With safety and quality at the heart, as a first step we will consult on ratio requirements by the summer to give providers more flexibility and autonomy to make decisions about their settings and the needs of their children. We will continue to work across Government to ensure that parents are given the information that they need to access support from tax-free childcare, universal credit, and other entitlements. We will actively consider how we can ensure a sufficient supply of childminders, giving more parents access to an affordable and flexible type of childcare, as well as creating further flexibilities to enable parents to be able to spend Government funding on childcare that best meets their need.

The Government are committed to helping families and giving every child the best start in life, and we back that with significant investment at the spending review. We are investing £695 million in the Supporting Families programme to provide targeted support to 300,000 of the most vulnerable families. We are also providing a further £600 million for activities and healthy food for children in the school holidays, and we are delivering on our manifesto commitment to champion family hubs. Family hubs bring together services for children of all ages. We will invest £302 million to transform Start for Life and support local authorities to create the network of family hubs in 75 local authorities across England.

I am proud of our record in supporting children and young people both before and during the pandemic. The Government have ensured that supporting our children and young people is at the heart of our recovery plans, with the latest evidence suggesting that real recovery is taking place. Those on the Labour Front Bench have no plan other than to keep promising more of other people’s money. Nowhere in their proposed plans are detailed costings of their proposed interventions on childcare. We will continue to follow the evidence and provide investment where it makes the greatest difference.