Early years settings ‘neglected’ by Tories over past decade, Labour says

Analysis from the party finds tens of thousands of providers are at risk of closing within a year

Zoe Tidman
Thursday 22 April 2021 22:41
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<p>Labour accuses government of ‘failing to listen’ to families struggling to get childcare</p>

Labour accuses government of ‘failing to listen’ to families struggling to get childcare

Early years settings have been “neglected” by the Tory government over the past decade, Labour has said, as new data suggests a slash in funding for the youngest children.

Tulip Siddiq, the shadow minister for children and early years, accused the government of “failing to listen” to families struggling to get childcare.

It comes after a survey on the early years sector - which includes nurseries, pre-schools and other settings for young children - suggested most faced full or partial closures in England and Wales during last winter amid the Covid pandemic.

Analysis from Labour has also found 30,000 early years providers are at risk of closure within a year.

More data from the party suggests spending on Sure Start children’s centres and under-fives has been cut by 40 per cent since 2015 across England.

“The early years are critical for a child’s development and childcare is a fundamental building block of our economy but, over the last decade, early years services have been neglected,” Ms Siddiq said.

“This Conservative government has failed to listen to families who have been unable to get the childcare, early education and wellbeing support they need.”

She will also call for a “big conversation” to be had over the early years sector during a visit to a nursery in London on Friday.

Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, said accused the government of not having a plan “to protect early years providers nor support the families” reliant on their services during the pandemic.

Nurseries shut during the first spring lockdown but were allowed to open during “stay at home” measures this year.

Staff were left with safety concerns after the sector was told it would stay open while schools and universities moved largely online during January and March, a leading charity said as England went into lockdown at the start of the year.

Last month, the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said childcare settings have faced additional costs as they strived to remain open during national lockdowns, including for extra cleaning and staff as children were kept in smaller groups.

Purnima Tanuku, the body’s chief executive, said positive Covid cases, staff absences and low occupancy led to partial and full closures, after a survey suggested more than 70 per cent of English and Welsh providers scaled back services over winter.

The poll by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and the NDNA also found the average number of children attending early years settings between last November and February was 28 per cent lower than pre-pandemic levels the year before. 

The survey of hundreds of providers - released last month - found around 40 per cent furloughed staff over the same period.

The government said last year it had provided “significant financial support to provide stability and reassurance for the early years sector” during the pandemic, which includes paying local authorities in the autumn term for childcare places at pre-pandemic funding levels, regardless of numbers attending.

A Department for Education spokesperson said it was “increasing the hourly funding rates paid to councils for the delivery of high quality, free childcare places”.

“In total this government has spent over £3.5bn in each of the past three years to support these offers, and over one million disadvantaged two year olds have benefitted from the 15 hours free childcare that we introduced,” they said.

They added: “We stay in regular contact with the early years sector, including on the subject of funding, and have provided significant support both before and during the pandemic.”

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