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Only Labour Will Guarantee Every Child, No Matter What Their Background, Gets The Care They Deserve

16/05/2017 19:48 BST | Updated 16/05/2017 19:49 BST
Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

When Labour published our manifesto today, I was particularly proud of the pledge that we will extend free universal childcare to 30 hours of free childcare a week for all 2-4 year olds - not just as shadow education secretary but as a working mum myself, who relied on the early years support that the last Labour government provided.

Ensuring that every young child gets a fair start in life will transform the lives of millions.

High quality early years education will bridge the gap between maternity leave and full-time school and we know it is those years that are most important for children, especially in the most disadvantaged households.

At the last General Election the Tories promised to give parents 30 free hours of childcare a week, but like so many of their promises to parents it now lies in tatters.

Terrible under-funding means that many families simply cannot get the childcare they are told they are entitled to, with many providers refusing to accept children claiming their free hours. And a majority of working parents of three and four year olds aren't even eligible for the service they were promised.

So our policy will see an extension of 30 free hours of childcare to all two-year-olds, rather than the Conservatives' policy where only 40% qualify, and Labour's policy will also apply to all 2-4 year olds, not just those of working parents who are able to prove they are earning over a certain amount.

We will replace the current complex and fragmented system, in which subsidies are given directly to parents who often struggle to use them, with direct government support to the childcare providers.

And unlike the Tories, we will back up our words with £2.7billion of capital investment over the next parliament, to ensure that the childcare places actually exist to meet families' need for them.

This policy will make a massive difference to families up and down the country but it will also benefit everyone by boosting the economy.

Childcare costs eat up a large proportion of family income, leaving many with two or more children saying it just doesn't make financial sense for both parents to work.

To put it quite simply, too many parents have been let down by the Tory failure to keep their promises, and are finding they can't go back to work because they can't afford childcare.

Our economy needs more childcare provision too, in order to enable parents to work. For too many, the high cost of childcare is what stops them taking a job. A survey conducted by the Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet showed that 67% of mothers in work and 64% of those not working felt this.

It's time to allow parents - especially women - who actively want to go back to work to do so.

In the longer term the boost to the economy would mean that more tax was being paid and in large part cover the cost of the service being provided.

The Women in Business Council was created by the coalition government in 2012 to report on women's contribution to economic growth. Their 2013 report, "Maximising women's contribution to future economic growth" found that getting an equal proportion of men and women in to jobs could add 10% to UK GDP by 2030. A boost to the economy of this size would make a full universal childcare scheme almost self-financing in the long run.

As they are breaking their promises on childcare, the Tories have also overseen the loss of 1200 Sure Start centres, a drop of more than a third. Over 230 have gone in the last year alone.

Sure Start, and the support it gives to vulnerable and hard-to-reach parents, was one of the great achievements of Labour in government. I know from first-hand experience the impact it has had - as a working class lone parent who found themselves jobless with a child to provide for, it was one of the greatest steps any government took to help me in my lifetime.

The evidence shows I'm not alone. Research by the children's charity 4Children found that nearly four out of five parents said being unable to use their local Children's Centre would make life harder for them and their families, while over a third said it would make a "big difference" and that life would become "a lot more difficult." Yet the Tory cuts have continued.

They have put their right-wing dogma ahead of the long-term interests of our economy and the majority of the population.

In stark contrast to this, I am absolutely committed to not just protecting but increasing the funding available for early years interventions like Sure Start.

Only Labour will guarantee every child, no matter what their background, gets the care they deserve.

Angela Rayner is the Labour shadow education secretary and candidate for Ashton-under-Lyne