Election 2019: Labour promising 1,000 new children’s centres

Labour is promising to open 1,000 new Sure Start children’s centres in England.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn says he would invest £1bn in the early years centres, as part of a package of childcare support.

The Lib Dems will promise subsidised childcare for working families from when children are nine months old.

The Conservatives say they are already « investing record amounts in high-quality childcare ».

Childcare providers have expressed scepticism at the lack of funding details and warned of an « electoral arms race » on childcare promises.

On a visit to Leeds with shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, Mr Corbyn will promise to open a new generation of Sure Start centres, which provide health, welfare and education services for pre-school children.

‘Positive impact’

According to a report from the Sutton Trust last year, up to 1,000 have closed in the past decade, with funding pressures being blamed.

Labour says it will « reverse the cuts » in the centres which were originally launched when Tony Blair was prime minister.

An analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies earlier this year said Sure Start had made a positive impact, with evidence that the health advice had « significantly reduced » the numbers of children being admitted to hospital.

But the financial think tank said it had been a story of a « fast roll-out followed by deep spending cuts », with spending peaking at £1.8bn in 2010 and then being cut to £600m by 2017-18.

The IFS puts the number of closures at about 500 sites – half the Sutton Trust estimate.

Labour has also restated its commitment to providing 30 hours-a-week of childcare for all two-to-four-year-olds, as part of its overall £4.5bn childcare package.

Ms Rayner said the extra support for early-years education could « transform lives ».

Mr Corbyn said opening a Sure Start centre in « every community » would « unlock the potential of every child ».

He said: « Parents are struggling to afford the childcare support they need, while many children are going hungry and growing up homeless. »

Childcare from nine months

The Liberal Democrats are unveiling their own childcare plans – offering 35 hours a week for all parents of two-to-four-year-olds.

This would be available for working parents from when their children are nine months old.

The Lib Dems say this will be funded by « fair tax changes », which they say means « making sure that big businesses pay their share ».

Layla Moran, the Lib Dem education spokeswoman, said it would support families as they « juggle the demands of modern life, working and parenting, by giving them more choice over how they organise their lives and improve social mobility with early-years education ».

More on the election

At present working parents of three- and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 30 hours’ free childcare a week – and the Conservatives say they have increased the funding and quality of childcare provision while in government.

Early Years Minister Nick Gibb said: « Labour’s plans to abolish Ofsted would leave these centres without anyone properly checking your children are safe. »

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, welcomed Labour’s promise for new Sure Start centres.

But he raised concerns about funding the promises – and whether there would be adequate levels of payments for nurseries and childcare providers.

« This is a positive policy for the thousands of parents struggling to afford childcare – but the lack of detail on how it will be funded will strike fear into the hearts of many providers.

« We currently have a funding shortfall in the early years of two-thirds of a billion pounds. That shortfall, which has led to thousands of provider closures, is a direct result of an ongoing electoral arms race between political parties to entice parents with ‘free childcare’ without thinking through how it will be paid for.

« It has meant that very few parents receive truly ‘free’ childcare and has ultimately pushed up prices for non-funded hours. »

Source: The Guardian

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