Labour promises free nursery education for 2-4 year olds and 4-day week

Labour has said it will provide free education for children aged two to four, renew the Sure Start programme and bring in a four-day week on full pay.

reviews of policy following the general election result.


Labour has announced plans for a  renewed Sure Start programme, a new free nursery education service for all two to four year olds and a four-day week on full pay.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference on Monday John McDonnell, shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced plans for a four-day working week (32 hours) within a decade, an end to in-work poverty,  an end to the UK’s opt-out from the European Working Time Directive, a ban on zero hours contracts, the introduction of a  Real Living Wage of £10+ per hour and an end to the Universal Credit rollout among other policies. On a shorter working week, enforcement would come through a new Working Time Commission which will recommend increases in statutory holiday entitlement if the reduction in working hours is not met.

Lord Skidelsky has recently published a report for Labour on rolling out a four-day week. Last year’s’s SME winner was Radioactive PR which reduced to a four-day week on full pay.

Business leaders expressed caution over the four-day week, saying it would need to be accompanied by no drop in productivity levels.

Meanwhile shadow education secretary Angela Rayner told the conference at the weekend that the free nursery education service would be “not childcare on the cheap, to get parents back to work. But an early education service, led by professionals, designed to develop the whole child”.

Childcare campaigners have welcomed the priority placed on childcare, but said they would like to see the detail of how it would be funded.

The Government currently offers up to 30 hours of free childcare to three and four year olds where both parents are working. Two year olds from disadvantaged families are also entitled to some free childcare and many parents qualify for childcare subsidies through tax credits, although these have been effectively cut in the last few years. There has been concern that the offer for three and four year olds is benefiting higher income parents as the expense of lower income ones.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: “Proposals to create more funded hours and reinvest in Sure Start would mean more children have access to a quality early education. It’s an offer that could transform the lives of some of our most disadvantaged children and should be welcomed by anyone interested in social mobility.

“That said, even without seeing the detail we can be confident these proposals represent an unprecedented financial commitment to early education spending. And that will concern childcare providers, especially when thousands have closed in recent years, many as a direct result of governments overpromising ‘free’ childcare in elections and underfunding in delivery.

“No more “childcare on the cheap” sounds like a promise to address that – but it’s very light on detail and the early years funding shortfall stands at almost two thirds of a billion pounds. Broadly speaking, these proposals represent a move in the right direction, but, without a firm commitment to ensure funding matches the true cost of delivery, the sector will struggle to take them seriously.”

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