Investing in early years education is an investment in Britain's future


I believe that getting a good start in life should not be a privilege: it is every child’s right.

I am proud that I was a recipient of wrap-around services such as Sure Start when I was a young mum. They gave me, and many of my friends, much needed support, a hand up in difficult times.

The Labour government at the time was a trailblazer for early year’s intervention, every child genuinely “did matter” and Sure Start was one of Labour’s great legacies.

But under the Tory government, childcare and early years services have been left chronically underfunded and early intervention services are failing to reach those most in need. Families with young children have borne the brunt of unfair government cuts, and this looks set to continue for the near future.

Mr Speaker, these benches want to develop a bigger vision for early education and childcare. We want the very best early intervention services that will be the envy of the world.

All the evidence shows that a relentless and holistic focus on the early years will improve the life chances, well-being and ultimately money for the nation in these austere times. All too often spend is concentrated on acute services - a shift change is needed.

Indeed a number of eminent professionals and colleagues have reinforced this - from Professor Monroe to Allen, Field and Tickell. Some focusing on 0-3, while others on 0-5. Monroe recommended that a statutory duty on local authorities be applied to secure sufficient provision of local early help services for children, young people and families.

The Government’s response was one of fine words but no action. They did not commit to a statutory duty on local authorities. A lost opportunity!

Many in the hall today have spoken about the need for affordable, high-quality childcare. This plays a critical role in supporting the economy. Getting this right is central to helping more women who want to work get back into the labour market.

But one in three of the families that were promised free extended childcare by this Government before the last election are now set to miss out as a result of the Government failing to make their sums add up.

This was starkly illustrated by the pilot area of York, where not one childcare provider out of 30 were willing to take up the additional 15 hours due to the pitiful payment of £3.95 per hour. (HOC Library June 16)

Almost a million women are put off working because once the cost of childcare is factored in, all too often work does not pay.

Over half of mums say they would prefer to go out to work if they could find good quality and affordable childcare. It has been estimated that increasing female participation in the UK workforce could add as much as £170billion to the economy.

These benches will be investigating new ways to ease the pressures on working parents through support services aimed at encouraging skills development and opportunities to retrain when returning to the workforce.

For those parents that are fortunate enough to find childcare places in their area, many are left disappointed with the quality that is on offer. The current allocation for the extended free offer does not help encouraging cross subsidisation in more affluent areas and patch and poor provision in less affluent communities.

Under this Tory Government, Labour programmes such as the Graduate Leader Fund, which supported graduates to work in private and voluntary nursery and childcare settings, and the requirement for Sure Start children’s centres in the most disadvantaged 30 per cent of areas to provide access to childcare and early education, have been scrapped.

This is in addition to real terms spending per child on early education falling, There are 763 fewer Sure Start centres, Child Trust Funds ending and maternity grants being cut.

Every child deserves an education that enables them to flourish in childhood and sets them up for life in Britain and the world.

It is unacceptable that children across the country from poorer backgrounds still struggle to gain access to university and earn decent wages. It is scandalous that where you are born and who your parents are still disadvantages too many people in Britain today.

Poorer children already start school almost a year behind their better off peers and this gap grows as they progress through education.

According to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, In England, almost one child in four (23%) does not meet the expected level of language development by the age of five. Children living in poverty face a much greater risk of falling behind – one in three (35%) does not have the language skills expected of a five-year-old

The Early Intervention Foundation has said that improving early intervention to help vulnerable children much earlier in their lives could save the Government almost £17 billion.

The attainment gap is growing and it will be up to a future Labour Government to pick up the pieces.

Early intervention is key to closing the life chances gap that exists for too many young people who live in constituencies such as mine.  

Under my watch these benches will be examining new strategies to support vulnerable children. The first 1000 days of a child’s life are crucial. Yet the current Government has failed to recognise the importance of putting access to high-quality early education at the heart of Britain’s mission to tackle inequality.

This government has no solid vision for improving the quality of childcare or driving innovation in early intervention to identify the root causes of problems early.

There are currently 3.7 million children growing up in poverty in the UK today, costing the Government around £29 billion a year. For millions of children, parental income can have a profound effect on their educational attainment and long-term life chances.

Family income is still the most significant factor in a child’s success in education. This Government's cynical changes to child poverty targets could mean thousands of children are forgotten and left behind.

We know that a good education is a key route out of poverty, but the difference in cognitive performance between disadvantaged children and their peers is already noticeable by the age of three.

Investing in early intervention will save taxpayers billions later down the line, so we need to look at how to embed these services within our communities, so they can reach vulnerable families and children as quickly as possible.

It is important that these services are made accessible to all families. Everyone should be entitled to support that can help them be better parents that create happy homes where their children can thrive. We need to explore how to broaden access to services and make them available to everyone.

If we want to tackle poverty and build a truly productive economy we need to look at how to make life easier for ordinary working families, and help mums get back to work. Since the party opposite came into government in 2010, the exact opposite has been the case.

Changes to Universal Credit will mean that over two million families will be £1,600 a year worse off and on their watch childcare costs have soared, with a part-time nursery place for a two year old now costing on average £166 a week.

Along with cuts across other critical social services, this is creating a recipe for hardship for millions of parents and making it more difficult for them to balance work and family life.

This Government should be looking at how at how to ease the burden on working people and how we can create a system of world-class early years provision, I’m afraid that it’s policies are doing just the opposite.

Investing now in these essential formative years of a child’s life is an investment in our country’s future. It will be up to Labour to develop policies that effectively target funding and best practise in these areas by beginning a revolution in the early years.

Early help services – developing a vision for services from pregnancy to school for the families that need them.

The first 1000 days of a child’s life are absolutely crucial in ensuring they go on to live fruitful and productive lives.

In Government, Labour made good progress in this area through programmes such as Sure Start that targeted services at parents in vulnerable communities and sought to help overcome social and economic disadvantages.

Our mission is to build on this work and look at how we can deliver a new and innovative way of reaching all families and provide them with the support they need.

A child born today is Britain’s future.

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