UK: Labour promises 100,000 new places for childcare

The Labour Party has pledged to create 100,000 additional childcare places and establish over 3,000 new nurseries as part of its comprehensive childcare plan. The initiative involves converting classrooms in existing primary schools into “school-based nurseries,” with an estimated cost of around £40,000 per classroom. This funding would be sourced from VAT levied on private schools, a move that has faced criticism from the sector and other political parties.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has promised that, if elected, his party will “create the childcare places needed to turn the page, and rebuild Britain.” Despite a projected 8.8% decline (397,000) in the number of state primary and nursery pupils in England over the next five years, Labour intends to repurpose the available space in primary school buildings for 3,334 new “high quality” nurseries, particularly in high-need areas lacking sufficient childcare facilities. These nurseries could be managed by the primary schools or by local private and voluntary sector nursery providers.

The funding strategy involves removing “unfair tax breaks” from private schools. In a recent TV debate, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his opposition to Labour’s plan to impose a 20% VAT on private schools, arguing that it would punish aspirational parents and amount to a “class war.” He believes that people who work hard should have the freedom to choose private education for their children.

Labour’s shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, mentioned that the policy might temporarily increase class sizes in state schools. However, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson countered this, stating there had been a “misunderstanding,” and Keir Starmer added that the impact on class sizes would be “negligible.”

Labour’s announcement is part of a broader strategy to create a modern childcare system that supports parents from the end of parental leave to the end of primary school. Speaking at Nursery Hill Primary School in Nuneaton, Starmer described the development of “wraparound” nursery care in primary schools as a potential “game-changer” for working parents with older children. Phillipson emphasized that the 3,300 new nurseries would be essential for achieving Labour’s mission to help half a million more children reach early learning goals by 2030, providing them with strong foundations for future success.

Previously, Labour had announced plans for free breakfast clubs in every primary school in England and had committed to expanding funded childcare as per the current government’s plans, which would provide additional free childcare hours to working parents starting from April 2024. The Department for Education had indicated that about 85,000 extra childminder and nursery places are needed in England for this expansion to be effective.

The media reached out to the Conservative Party for comments on Labour’s plans, while a Liberal Democrats spokesperson emphasized the importance of flexible, affordable childcare in offering parents more choices, aiding their return to work, and addressing the gender pay gap. The Liberal Democrats also plan to “transform” parental leave. Gender equality charity, the Fawcett Society, welcomed Labour’s focus on childcare, urging all parties to prioritize it in their manifestos with genuine, long-term commitments. The charity highlighted that 85% of mothers struggle to find childcare compatible with their jobs, leading many to leave the workforce.

Sarah Ronan, director of the Early Education and Childcare Coalition, supported Labour’s commitment but stressed the need for a new workforce strategy to attract more professionals into the sector, ensuring they receive appropriate pay, conditions, and respect. Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, also welcomed the plan, noting the importance of accessible childcare to avoid long waiting lists and childcare deserts, and stressing the necessity of substantive reforms rather than superficial fixes.

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