Children “priced out of opportunity” by Tory failure on childcare, Labour says

Katie Neame

Bridget Phillipson has argued that “Tory inaction” on childcare costs means that children across the country are “being priced out of opportunity” as Labour pledges to prioritise early years with recovery investment.

In a speech to the National Education Union’s annual conference on Tuesday, the Shadow Education Secretary is expected to promise investment in childcare and early learning equivalent to more than 400,000 weeks of full-time childcare.

Speaking ahead of the event, the Labour frontbencher said that Conservatives are “sacrificing children’s futures in their utter failure to deliver a proper recovery plan” and highlighted her party’s Children’s Recovery Plan.

“Labour has been clear for months – we would be delivering the recovery plan that children need, want and deserve, with investment in early childcare supporting our youngest children,” Phillipson said.

“As parents battle rising costs of living, soaring childcare costs make life ever harder for families. Tory inaction means children are being priced out of opportunity.”

In her speech to the NEU conference on Tuesday, Phillipson will say that childcare is becoming increasingly “unavailable” and “unaffordable”, arguing that the Conservatives are failing parents and children “because it’s in those first few years that the attainment gap opens up”.

Children’s charity Coram recently found in its annual survey of the sector that childcare costs increased by 3.5% for three- to four-year olds and 2.5% for those aged under two since 2021, a continuation of a trend that the charity has seen in the 21 years it has been undertaking the research.

The research also revealed that the availability of childcare has decreased in some areas over the last year, with a lower proportion of councils in England reporting that they have enough childcare to meet demand for pre-school children.

Commenting on the findings at the time, managing director of Coram Family and Childcare Ellen Broomé said: “Many parents, up and down the country, will be locked out of work or struggle to make ends meet as childcare prices continue to go up and the availability of places goes down.

“And the more vulnerable children will miss out the most on this boost to their development and outcomes. High-quality childcare is key social infrastructure, it helps parents work and narrows the gap between poorer children and their more affluent peers.”

Labour children’s recovery plan committed to increasing the early-years pupil premium from £302 to £1,345 – an investment of more than £112m for the 107,000 eligible children – and the party has promised to extend free school meals through the holidays and provide breakfast clubs and new activities for every child.

Labour also said it would make small-group tutoring available to all children and ensure high-quality mental health support is offered by every school. Its plan also calls for greater support to be provided to teachers through continued professional development to enable them to help children catch up on lost learning.

Shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan last week urged ministers to “get a grip and engage with schools” on cost pressures to avoid children missing out on opportunities after research revealed school energy bills had doubled.

Analysis by the House of Commons Library, of official figures on energy consumption and gas prices, found that non-domestic gas and electricity prices almost doubled in 2021, mostly due to the increase in the cost of wholesale gas.

Schools are not covered by the energy price cap, which only applies to domestic customers, meaning there is no limit on how much their energy bills could increase. Wholesale prices are expected to continue rising in the coming months.

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