Labour’s Phillipson calls for end to childcare ‘tinkering’

A Labour government would completely overhaul Britain’s “broken” childcare system, the shadow education secretary has said.

Bridget Phillipson said she wanted to “move away” from the current system of free childcare provision, saying “bolting on” more hours would not solve problems of availability or affordability.

Speaking at an event hosted by centre-right think tank Onward, Ms Phillipson said: “What we need is not tinkering, but a bold and ambitious vision of how things can be better.”

But she did not lay out the specifics of what Labour would do, beyond the policy of providing breakfast clubs in every primary school that she announced at the party conference in September.

Ms Phillipson said: “We will be looking in the months ahead at what that different model will involve, but I’m clear it has to involve raising standards in the sector too, a better deal for staff working in early years and childcare, and it has to provide sustainability and choices for parents.”

She added that Labour would be looking abroad for inspiration, including to Estonia, where childcare is integrated into the education system, and Ireland, where the government has established a new funding model.

Labour is unlikely to bring back the Sure Start programme introduced under Tony Blair and cut back under David Cameron, with Ms Phillipson saying improvement would not come from “simply winding back the clock”.

Describing Labour as “the party of the family”, Ms Phillipson accused the Conservatives of “failing families” by not providing enough support for childcare.

Her comments came as the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has published new survey findings which show that 98.4% of nurseries in England say their funding rates do not cover delivery costs.

Ms Phillipson said: “More ‘free hours’ for parents, means more underfunded hours for nurseries, more costs piled on to providers struggling to deliver services as they are now, and more need for cross-subsidy.”

Bridget Phillipson
Bridget Phillipson speaking at an event hosted by centre-right think tank Onward (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

She added: “Adding in more free hours could see the Conservatives crash the childcare market, just like they crashed the economy.”

In response, children’s minister Claire Coutinho accused Labour of having “no plan”.

She said: “Just yesterday Labour admitted that their childcare ideas are totally uncosted – completely undermining Starmer’s fiscal promises. They have no plan for Britain.

“All they are proposing is the same old Labour ideas of more spending and more borrowing.

“The Conservatives have ensured that every three- and four-year-old gets 15 hours of free childcare, with more support available for working families and the disadvantaged.”

A survey published by the charity Coram Family and Childcare on Thursday found only 73% of councils in England and Wales had enough places for the universal 15 hours a week free childcare entitlement for three and four-year-olds, down from 79% last year.