As someone who has long campaigned for investment in early years services – and won the argument in parliament that this should be seen as a matter of economic infrastructure- I’m deeply worried about the impact of the Government’s current policy. For children, early years education is critical to their future attainment – when it is harder for kids to access this then we bake inequality into outcomes at an early age. Those who work in it should be valued and paid to reflect their professionalism and dedication to the achievement of our youngest residents. Yet for so long funding has not matched this ambition driving people out of early years work and closing facilities to mean there is already a shortage of places to meet the demand.

Our childcare system desperately needed investment and funding- yet as we are now seeing the provision of additional entitlement to free childcare without adequate funding means many local parents cannot find a space at all or find their fees are increasing. The examples and stories many of you have shared with me and what this means for you and your children have been heartbreaking. 

This effect echoes the problems caused by the Governments ‘right to buy’ scheme for housing which saw increased demand for housing without an increase in supply. As a result it became harder to buy a property rather than easier despite the extra funding. Simply pushing up demand for childcare places while doing nothing to expand the supply and pay those who work in early years properly has meant those benefiting from the investment made to date tend to be those already with a place, and even those with places face higher prices to keep them.

With parents of children aged 9 months old entitled to free places from September these pressures are likely to increase- and already we have seen those with children with special educational needs effectively cut out of the scheme altogether. This was predictable- the Government’s own impact assessment on increasing the ratio of children an early years provider could care for expressly warned this would mean SEND children could be cut out of provision as a result as nurseries would not be able to give them the care they required. The Government didn’t listen and now some of the most vulnerable children are excluded from places as a result.

I know how frustrating this is for parents and carers – if I am re-elected helping to get this right and the childcare service we need so that every family can make the choices they want to balance work and family life is a priority for me because I know how much it would benefit our community and our country.

Many of you have asked about Labour’s plans and I can confirm Labour has committed to covering the entitlements agreed to date so that parents and carers can plan for the year ahead. Labour has also pledged a review of all funding on childcare – bringing together the money being made available in different areas of government to look at how we can properly ensure access and affordability. In that review I will seek to champion the evidence of the benefits of moving towards a universal service – as we have with educational provision for children after the age of four- if I am re-elected. To help do that please do keep sharing with me your experience of rising prices, increasing costs for ‘extras’ at nursery, or struggles to get a place since April this year. I know it is frustrating to not know the longer term future for early years provision but as someone involved in this debate I believe the last year has shown why it matters to take the time to get the policy – and funding – right rather than see further chaos caused. I hope my track record on this issue shows that I won't rest until it is resolved for the benefit of every child in our community and our country. 

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