Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Miliband attacks childcare costs

Ed Miliband is set to draw attention to the 'childcare crunch'

The average cost of a nursery place has risen 30% under the coalition Government - nearly five times the rate of average wages, Labour leader Ed Miliband is expected to say today.

Mr Miliband will draw attention to the "childcare crunch" at a speech by pointing out that the average cost of a weekly nursery place for a child aged two or over for 25 hours a week has gone up to £107 in 2013, from £82 in 2010.

During the same time period average weekly earnings have only risen 6% from £449 to £477, meaning p arents working part-time on average wages would have to work four days a week to pay for full-time weekly childcare, according to Labour.

Mr Miliband will claim that the coalition Government has done "nothing to help" families and has added stress to family life.

He will also point out that there are 35,000 fewer childcare places and 576 fewer Sure Start centres since the last general election as he sets out his party's plans to "stand up for families" and help parents tackle the "cost of living crisis".

But the Department of Education disputed the figures, claiming only 45 Sure Start centres have shut down since 2010 and new ones have opened with a record number of parents using them.

A spokeswoman added that Mr Miliband's comments "could not be further from the truth".

The opposition leader launched Labour's childcare policies at September's party conference, including an extension of free childcare for three and four-year-olds to 25 hours a week for working parents, paid for by a levy on banks

Labour would also provide a a legal guarantee of access to wraparound care from 8am to 6pm at primary schools.

On a visit to a nursery today, Mr Miliband is expected to say: "Millions of parents are facing a childcare crunch. The cost of a nursery place is now the highest in history, at more than £100 a week to cover part-time hours.

"And average costs for a full-time place are now rising up to £200 or even more. That means a typical parent doing a part-time job would have to work from Monday until Thursday just to cover these costs of childcare.

"Rising prices have been matched only by falling numbers of places. David Cameron denounced Labour before the last election for warning that the Tories might put Sure Start at risk.

"But an average of three Sure Start centres is being lost every single week, contributing to a total of 35,000 fewer childcare places under David Cameron. And all at a time when the number of under-fours in England has risen by 125,000."

He said the "childcare crunch" is also affecting families with children at school, as parents attempt to balance work and family life.

"Under the last government 99% of schools provided access to breakfast clubs and after-school clubs," he added.

"But more than a third of local authorities have reported this has been scaled back in their area under David Cameron.

"That's what you get from this Government - tax cuts for millionaires, cuts in childcare places for millions of families. The Tories say they care about families but they have done nothing to help for three years while all the time adding to the stress and strain of family life.

"If it's bad for families, it's bad for Britain too. Parents who want to work should be able to do so. We need to use the talents of everyone if we are to succeed as an economy and keep social security bills down. Seven out of 10 stay-at-home mums tell surveys that the cost of childcare has deterred them from looking for a job."

He said a Labour government would extend free nursery places for three and four-years-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week for parents at work and offer them a legal guarantee that children at primary school can access breakfast or homework clubs to allow them to work a full day.

The Department for Education said it is taking action to tackle the cost and quality of childcare and is cutting red tape to encourage schools to offer affordable school and holiday childcare as well as full day places for two, three and four-year-olds.

"We've allowed 28,000 more childminders to offer places for three and four-year-olds and created childminder agencies to make it simpler to enter the profession," a spokeswoman said "And recent figures show that 2012-13 was the second successive year with no real-terms increase in full daycare fees.

"Tax-free childcare will mean that parents will be getting £1,200 towards each child's childcare costs in addition to 15 hours free childcare for three and four-year olds. We are also increasing funding for free care for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds from £534 million to £760 million in 2014-15."

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