Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged a £500m package to support parents with young children – but he has been warned it is not enough to make up for cuts and closures.
Mr Sunak will announce a range of early years investments that will give children the “best possible start in life” at his Budget on Wednesday.
But Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said the government knows the “existing structure is crumbling” and much more was needed to help nurseries, pre-schools and childminders.
Labour called the package a “sticking plaster” for the lack of support families with young children have received over the past decade.
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “This supposed commitment rings hollow after 11 years of Conservative cuts have forced the closure of over 1,000 children’s centres – cutting off the early learning that sets children up for life.
She added: “This has come alongside the government stripping away early intervention children’s services, allowing problems to escalate into crises. This is a smokescreen for the Conservatives’ failure to deliver for families.”
The funding package announced by Mr Sunak includes around £80m to create another 75 family hubs in local authorities across England. They are support centres for families to access services in one place.
A further £100m will go towards supporting the mental health of expectant parents, and around 300,000 of the most vulnerable in society will be supported with an extra £200m to help them through complex issues.
The chancellor said: “I passionately believe that we have a duty to give young families and their children the best possible start in life … I’m thrilled that this investment will guarantee that thousands of families across England are given support to lead healthy and happy lives.”
But Mr Leitch said nearly 3,000 providers in the early years care sector have closed since the start of 2021 – and 16,000 had shut in the last six years.
He told BBC Breakfast: “That tells you we have a crumbling infrastructure, so I come back to this point: it’s no good just having a bit-piece approach to this, it needs a revamp. We need an independent review to look at our early years and education system in the UK.”
The sector chief added: “I hope there’s more coming in the spending review, but I do question why would you create another infrastructure of early years support when the existing structure is crumbling around you.
“And government knows this is the case. So it’s a bitter pill to swallow, to see all of this and yet the existing system is ignored.”
Imran Hussain of the Action for Children charity welcomed “vital” support for family hubs but said he hoped more investment from the chancellor would follow.
“After years of cuts to these services, we hope this will mark the start of a programme of investment to ensure all children can access high-quality early years services,” he said.
Vicky Nevin of the NSPCC said she was worried that support for health visiting was “missing” from the funding package. “Health visitors are in a prime position to spot when parents are struggling ... But the workforce has been drastically cut by around a third since 2015.”
The NSPCC is calling on Mr Sunak to provide additional funding for 3,000 health visitors so that new parents can access mental health support after a new poll revealed that more than half of parents with young children felt isolated or overwhelmed during the past 18 months.
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