Bridget Phillipson MP: Labour promise of free breakfasts
Bridget Phillipson MP: Labour promise of free breakfasts 'first step on the road to rebuilding childcare'

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson to announce plan to fund breakfast clubs in every primary school

Labour will rebuild a new childcare system to ease the pressure on parents from the “end of parental leave right through to the end of primary school”, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said, starting with a pledge on free breakfast clubs.

Phillipson will announce on Wednesday that fully funded breakfast clubs for every primary school in England would be funded by the revenues raised by restoring the top rate of income tax to 45p, if Labour were elected.

But in an interview with the Guardian, Phillipson said breakfast clubs were only “the first step in the road” in what would be an extensive childcare offer ahead of the next election, and that childcare would be one of the issues on the party’s pledge card.

Phillipson said that there was a new understanding of how lack of investment in childcare was holding back growth, as well as how it would benefit child development and parents’ careers and wellbeing.

“The cost of living crisis has particularly exposed the really difficult choices that parents are facing right now. It is usually women, sadly, who end up giving up work because the childcare that they need isn’t available, and that has to change.”

Phillipson said the party’s offer by the time of the election would mean “thinking very differently about childcare … it’s a really important part of the support we give to families and how we grow the economy. This is the first step towards the modern childcare system we need to see.”

Speaking after spending the morning with children at Holy Cross Primary school in the centre of Liverpool, Phillipson said breakfast clubs could be delivered “quickly and straightforwardly” but that parents were either having to pay to access them or they were subsidised by school budgets, which were shrinking.

New data from Labour suggests at least 800,000 children do not have access to early morning provision – a fifth of schoolchildren in England – and those that do often face barriers because of costs or limits on numbers able to access the breakfast clubs.

Phillipson said there were still huge gaps in provision for early years childcare, with parents only able to access very limited taxpayer support before children turn two. Phillipson said the cost of living crisis was exacerbating that problem. “We’ve seen in the last year a big drop in the number of women going back to work after having after having their first child,” she said.

“That’s a personal tragedy for those women who desperately want to go back to work, but it means as an economy, we’re losing brilliant, talented people. And that comes at an economic cost too.

“You can’t grow your economy unless you invest and have the right support in place around childcare.”

Phillipson, who has been shadow education secretary since November last year, will face two key challenges over the coming months in her brief – a drive by Liz Truss to increase child to staff ratios in early years childcare and moves by Conservative backbenchers, tacitly backed by Number 10, to allow new grammar schools to open.

She said Labour would oppose both of those measures, saying changing ratios “will drive down quality, will not lead to a reduction in costs for parents, and it’s not what parents want.”

She said Labour’s childcare package over the coming year would include a workforce plan for the sector. “Those who work in our childcare settings are often not properly supported, don’t have access to professional development and are among the most poorly paid workers in our society,” she said. “But they’re doing the most important jobs in terms of giving our children the best possible start in life.

“Teachers couldn’t do their job without the amazing school support staff that provide that and they’ll be a big part of making sure we can deliver those breakfast clubs in every school.”

Over the coming year, Phillipson will focus on honing Labour’s plan for primary and secondary schools including a more rounded curriculum, which Phillipson has previously talked about when setting out the party’s post-Covid catchup strategy.

“The curriculum in particular has become far too narrow. We’ve seen music and sport and drama just completely squeezed out. And it means that particularly for those children whose parents can’t afford additional clubs and activities, they don’t have access to those enriching activities that are part of what makes childhood a wonderful time for children, but it’s also absolutely vital in terms of children’s development.”

This article originally appeared in The Guardian

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