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