Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Not a sure start………

The day before the last general election, when asked for a guarantee that Surestart centres would continue to receive funding, David Cameron said he backed Surestart and that it was a disgrace for anyone to suggest that he would be cutting childcare support.
'Sure Start will stay, and we’ll improve it. We will keep flexible working, and extend it' he said.

Unfortunately, since 2010, parents have faced a childcare crunch with costs up by 30%, while hundreds of Sure Start centres have already closed and many more are likely to close over the next year. Even in the Prime Minister’s own Oxfordshire backyard, 37 Sure Start centres have been earmarked for closure.

It’s important to understand the scale of the childcare crunch of the last 3 years:
  • the cost of nursery places has risen by 30% - five times faster than pay
  • the average bill for a part time nursery place of 25 hours a week has gone up to £107.
  • parents working part time on average wages now have to work from Monday until Thursday before they have paid off their weekly childcare costs. 
  • there are 576 fewer Sure Start centres – with three being lost on average every week.
  • there are 35,000 fewer childcare places
  • the Government’s offer of childcare for some 2-year-olds is failing with 1 in 3 councils not having enough places

All this has taken place during a period when the number of under-4 children in England has risen by 125,000. 

But it isn’t just the parents of pre-school children who are being squeezed. Before 2010, 99% of schools provided access to breakfast clubs and after-school clubs. But more than a third of councils have reported that this is being scaled back in their areas.

These cuts in services and big hikes in charges have come as people have desperately searched for jobs – often part-time – which necessarily require access to affordable childcare.

That’s why I’m backing Ed Miliband’s plan to:

  • extend free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents of three and four year-olds, funded by increasing the banking levy
  • introduce a legal guarantee of access to wraparound care 8am to 6pm at primary schools

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Just making it up?

I’m having a little problem with David Cameron at the moment.

In October, on a BBC's Sunday Politics programme, Mr Cameron said that the additional cuts that local councils will have to make as a result of George Osborne’s latest spending review announcement were ‘relatively modest…. just 2.3%

Nobody knows where that figure has come from. It’s wildly different from the estimates of the independent experts, who suggest that the additional cut is nearer to 10%. The Treasury and Department of Communities and Local Government both refuse to comment.

So, nearly a month ago, I wrote to Mr Cameron to ask him to explain his statement. No 10 responded quickly saying that Mr Cameron was asking a Treasury Minister to respond. Needless to say, there has been no response, so I’ve had to write to Mr Cameron again asking him to explain.

Is it unreasonable for me to think that the reason for the failure to respond is that the 2.3% figure is an invention? I don’t think so. Mr Cameron has ‘form’ for telling porkies – it’s the parliamentary equivalent of a long criminal record!

Last week, all his speeches were wiped from the Conservative Party’s website – presumably to stop people contrasting the promises he’s made with what he’s delivered.

For example, he’s told us:
  • We’re paying down Britain’s debts.” – when debt will have risen 60% under his stewardship
  • We will have a bigger army for a safer Britain” – when he’s cutting 7000 soldiers
  • It’s just plain wrong to say that this government is cutting benefits for disabled children by over £1,300 a year” – when the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed it is
  • We will stop top-down reorganisations of the NHS” – and then undertook the biggest top-down reorganisation costing £3bn.

It was also revealed last week that pensioners in England face paying more than £150,000 for their residential care before they hit the so-called 'cap' on care costs. This is more than double the £72,000 which Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg have previously claimed as the maximum. In fact, it’s even worse at £159,000 in Yorkshire and Humberside and more than £190,000 in the East Midlands.

Analysis shows that more than nine out of ten elderly people in the region will have died before they reach the 'cap'. Older people and their families deserve better than to be conned in such an underhanded way.