Lib Dems commit to new policies on childcare amid calls from nurseries to politicians to fix the existing problems first.
Liberal Democrat members have backed new policies on parental leave and early years education, including more free hours of childcare for lower paid parents, but experts have warned that politicians need to fix the existing problems in the system before extending free childcare.
At their party conference this weekend, members voted to give disadvantaged children aged two to four an additional five free hours a week, address wages and career progression in the sector, boosting childminder numbers and, in the long term, delivering free, full-time childcare for all children from age two and those with working parents from nine months.
On parental leave they pledged to give all workers, including self-employed parents, a day-one right to parental leave and pay; give all families up to a year of paid parental leave, with each parent getting six weeks of use-it-or-lose-it leave, with 46 weeks of parental leave to share between themselves as they choose; doubling parental pay (after the initial six weeks) to £350 per week; and increasing paternity pay to 90% of earnings, with a cap for high-earners. They also agreed to the introduction of a new “toddler top-up” enhanced rate of Child Benefit for one-year-olds and to providing extra support for children with special needs and training for early years staff.
In addition, they committed to tripling the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 per year.
Purnima Tanuku, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: “We welcome any support to invest more in high quality early education and care which is the best way to engage all children with their development and lifelong learning. This is especially true for children with additional needs and from deprived backgrounds, where research shows that access to high quality early education and care can have the biggest impact. NDNA has long called for increasing the Early Years Pupil Premium but even the Liberal Democrat plans to triple its value will still leave it well short of the rate paid in schools.
“However, any extension to the existing childcare offer must not be done until the current challenges with funding and workforce have been resolved. The early years sector is facing a major workforce crisis, with staff leaving for better-paid jobs in other sectors. Government funding has never covered providers’ costs and these have been soaring over the last few years.
“Any plan for early education and childcare must be full of practical solutions, worked on with the early years sector for the benefit of children and their families. They must not be vote-winning soundbites with no investment behind them.”