Nick Clegg on the Liberal Democrats’ vision for a world class early years education system

Nick Clegg has made a major speech on early years education and  child care to the Pre-School Learning Alliance. He pointed out that as a result of Liberal Democrat input, an extra £1 billion has been put into child-care in this Parliament and that only the Liberal Democrats would protect that level of spending in the next Parliament. In contrast, the Conservatives would cut it, at a cost of £625 per child. Not only that, but welfare cuts would affect low income families.

Here are the main points of his speech:

Over the last five years, we’ve made it one of our biggest priorities in this Government to ensure that every child – whatever their background or circumstances – gets an equal shot at the successful future they deserve.

Disadvantaged background start to bite early:

 So much so that, if you’re a child born into a poor family in this country, you will already have fallen behind a child with richer parents by the time you’re 2 years old.

That’s before you step anywhere near a classroom and it has absolutely nothing to do with your talent or potential – just the circumstances of your birth. Without focused action to change it, that gap between you and your peers will continue to get bigger as you grow up. So that when you turn up, proudly wearing your new uniform, for your first day of school, you will be well over a year behind your better-off classmates. Morally and economically, we simply cannot afford for so many children to have their future written off like that in this country.

What the Liberal Democrats have done this Parliament and what they want to do in the future:

It’s one of the reasons why, I believe, we’ve seen so much growth in this sector over the last few years, with many new early years providers signing up to offer free hours. As part of that extra investment, the amount we give to Local Authorities to fund our free childcare offers is based on a higher hourly rate than the national average early years providers charge parents. That’s according to the Department for Education’s own evidence and the most recent Family and Childcare Trust annual surveys. From the beginning, we’ve been adamant that this money should be used to help more young children get the best possible start in life. We don’t want it spent on anything else. And we will continue to push Local Authorities to pass on as much of this funding as possible to frontline providers.

In fact, I’m very clear that the only way for us to really shift the dial on this is to focus even more of our efforts and investment on securing our children’s future. That’s why the Liberal Democrats are the only party with a long-term plan to create a world-class early years education sector. Our vision is that every child, whatever their background, will have access to high quality pre-school education; and that every working parent will have the childcare support they need when returning to work.

These measures are helping to both ease the pressure of childcare costs for family’s household budgets and, critically, boost social mobility. We want to build on that progress. So, in the next parliament, the Liberal Democrats will start by providing 15 hours a week of free early years education to every family with a two year old. On average, this will save the families new to this offer the equivalent of £2,540 a year. And when we can, it’s ultimately our long-term ambition to increase the number of hours of free childcare Government funds from 15 to 20 hours a week across the board.

Secondly, just like in the schools system where we’ve pumped in further investment through the Pupil Premium, we will make sure you have the extra resources necessary to make a difference to our most disadvantaged toddlers. We will increase the Early Years Pupil Premium from £300 to £1,000 per child, per year – boosting the support you can give to these children. That could be specialist one on one support, bringing in more qualified staff with expertise in particular areas such as speech therapy or training your workforce more widely. Whatever you think will help that child. This will deliver an Early Years Pupil Premium that is higher pro rata than the primary school Pupil Premium – because we know investing in our youngest children makes the most difference.

And parents won’t have to wait until their child is two in order to get help with spiralling childcare costs:

As today’s Family and Childcare Trust Survey confirms, with demand increasing, the cost of childcare is rising. In the Liberal Democrats, we recognise that pressure on working parents to budget for their childcare costs doesn’t just start when their child is two years old, and their entitlement to funded hours kicks in, but when their parental leave ends.

In the next parliament, we are committed to help these families bridge that gap. That’s why the Liberal Democrats will make 15 hours of free early years education available to all working parents from the end of their paid parental leave at 9 months right through until their child is 2, and the existing provision begins. On average, this will save working parents the equivalent of £2,670 a year.

We will also give extra support to those families who need childcare in addition to these funded hours: firstly, by completing the rollout of tax-free childcare. So that, from autumn this year, if you’re a family with children under 12 and you don’t receive tax credits, Universal Credit or Employer Supported Childcare, but both parents are working or you’re a lone working parent – the government will provide 20% of your child care costs up to £10,000 a year. This will cover parents working full-time and part-time as well as, for the first time ever, those mums and dads who run their own businesses. It equates to £2,000 per child, per year for every working family – except those on extremely high wages.

The poorest families will benefit more:

And, secondly, in 2016, we will boost the childcare support within Universal Credit by around £350 million, to increase the contribution Government makes to childcare costs from 70% to 85%. This is for lone parents or couples in work who pay income tax and rely on Universal Credit to make childcare affordable or even possible. And we estimate this could help out around 500,000 households by an average of £60 per month.

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  • A clear enunciation of Liberal Democrat principles and achievements in government, accompanied by an excellent plan for the future. Being able to stop the Tories from undermining things like this with their unending desire to make the poor pay for their austerity drive will be key to the success of our involvement in any future government. We just need to make sure it happens!

  • Agree with David, and would hope that protecting this on-going investment will be a key demand in any coalition negotiations.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Feb '15 - 10:24am

    I have to question whether his is some sort of admission that the children of disadvantaged parents are better off in the care of professionals rather than their own parents.?

    I am also becoming rather alarmed that we may be moving from a dominant ideology where a woman’s place was deemed to be in the home to one where it is now deemed to be in the workplace.

    Personally, I would prefer that one deals with the root cause, that deprivation affects the life chances of children, and it is deprivation that should be tackled.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Feb ’15 – 10:24am
    “I have to question whether his is some sort of admission that the children of disadvantaged parents are better off in the care of professionals rather than their own parents.?”

    Yes indeed. It is worth questioning the wisdom of placing any young children with “professionals”.
    if I recall correctly, some of the professionals that Nick Clegg himself was placed with when at a very expensive prep school went on to be sentenced In court for child abuse.

  • “I am also becoming rather alarmed that we may be moving from a dominant ideology where a woman’s place was deemed to be in the home to one where it is now deemed to be in the workplace.”

    An interesting and perhaps telling observation.

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