Every day, tens of thousands of working parents across the country are being failed by inadequate childcare policies that leave families financially crippled, stagnating in their careers and desperate for radical change. Families are being let down by Ministers, who are simply not doing enough. Indeed, in June 2021 the Government’s own education recovery adviser, Sir Kevan Collins, resigned in protest at the Government’s failure to support children’s recovery.
The average price of a full-time nursery place for a one-year-old child is a staggering £14,000, and one in three parents spend more than a third of their entire income on childcare. More often than not, it is families on the lowest incomes or on universal credit, single parents and those with disabilities who suffer the most.
Labour’s Sure Start scheme aimed to help people and was very successful. It supported working families with childcare. Naturally, the Conservative coalition cut its funding by two thirds, despite the policy’s success. One in three parents with a household income of less than £20,000 have had to cut back on essential food or housing as a direct result of childcare costs. A staggering 92% of parents said that the cost of childcare had affected their standard of living because the cost was completely unaffordable and had resulted in a substantial impact on them.
It is not as if the nurseries and childcare workers themselves are the ones benefiting from this. Research by the National Day Nurseries Association found that 95% of nurseries in England did not even have enough funding to cover their basic costs after the impact of the covid pandemic on their incomes. Now, in the midst of a cost of living crisis, nursery finances will be squeezed even more by the rise in national insurance and the cost of heating and electricity bills. Nurseries such as Grosvenor nursery in my constituency are fighting for survival because of serious funding shortages caused by the disparity between funding and overhead and staffing costs, not to mention the large deficit created by the pandemic. In a recent visit last year, I saw at first hand the hard work that its staff and management do in nurturing our future generations This crisis is only going to get worse as more and more childcare providers go out of business, increasing demand for places and pushing prices even higher for families struggling with the rising cost of living.
Until recently, Government underfunding was one of the main reasons nurseries were going out of business, but now we are seeing more nurseries unable to open because of a recruitment crisis, with demoralised staff leaving the profession in droves. Part of the reason for that of course is that wages for early years staff are embarrassingly low. May I remind the Minister that these are people we trust and hand our children over to, to look after? Many of them are on the national living wage, which is not enough for them to survive on, bearing in mind the work that they are doing. Nursery workers do not just play with our children; they are preparing them for school, and helping in their development and with their educational opportunities.
The first 1,000 days of any child’s life are crucial to their development and their life chances. People working in early years care are crucial to this and should be paid fairly as a result. That is even more important for disadvantaged children. Being in early education is one of the most important things that can help to close the gap for them. Lower-income parents will be forced to withdraw their children, who have the most to gain from not being a year behind their peers when they start school.
Childcare has not only been neglected; it has been deliberately starved of funding, and has forced parents—many mothers—out of work and into poverty. Labour would introduce breakfast clubs, and support children in sporting and social activities to broaden their horizons. We would give children access to a counsellor to support their mental health and we would introduce an education recovery premium to prevent children from falling behind.
I remind the House that Nelson Mandela once famously said:
“The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.”
I have to say that the Government’s neglect of childcare is pushing us deeply into this. Finally, I would like to wish Brannagh Logan a happy birthday, bearing in mind that she is the daughter of my constituency neighbour.