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Social Justice

Labour would bring in free breakfast clubs at every primary school in England

Labour claim the plan is a step towards building a “modern childcare system” that supports families and children

A Labour government would bring in free breakfast clubs at every primary school in England to “build a future where children come first”, the party has announced.

Speaking at the Labour Party Conference on Wednesday, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson will reveal plans to introduce the fully-funded schemes across the country.

Labour claims it will be the “first step on the road to a modern childcare system”. It will be funded by restoring the 45p income tax rate for the richest people in the country, which was cut last week in chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget.

Phillipson will announce Labour’s plan will enable parents to work as well as strengthening children’s development, driving up standards in reading, writing and maths.

She will say: “The evidence couldn’t be clearer: gaps in learning development, gaps in opportunities, open up early, so our solutions must start early too. We need a fresh vision of that education. One that looks to the future, not the past.

“Labour will build a modern childcare system. One that supports families from the end of parental leave through to the end of primary school. As the first step on that road, we will introduce breakfast clubs for every primary school child in England.”

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Childcare is in crisis as costs continue to rise at a steady rate. The average weekly price for families using an after-school club for five days a week is £66.52 per week, according to children’s charity Coram. This is an increase from £62.12 in 2021.

Think tank the IPPR found the UK has the second highest childcare costs in the developed world, with part-time care for a child under two setting a parent back £7,000 a year.

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Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Universal breakfast clubs in primary schools would be a breakthrough kids and parents need – boosting children’s learning and wellbeing and helping parents combine jobs with family life.

“With four million children already in poverty and millions of parents struggling to stay afloat, now is the time to make this happen for families. We hope there is more to come – universal before- and after-school activities for kids of all ages would make a crucial difference.”

In his mini-budget, chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced plans to “bring forward reforms to improve access to affordable, flexible childcare”. The government plans to relax child to staff ratios for two-year-olds, which ministers claim will bring more “flexibility” to childcare providers in running their businesses.

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But the plan has sparked concerns from campaigners, with the Early Years Alliance warning it “risks compromising the quality of education and care that children receive at a time when they need more individual care and attention than ever”. 

Labour criticised the government for its handling of “the spiralling cost of childcare”, while warning that “rising food, fuel and housing costs, is increasingly forcing growing numbers of parents out of work”. 

The party said its plan to introduce universal breakfast clubs is a “landmark” new approach to childcare. Labour is also proposing a school improvement programme, paid for by ending tax breaks for private schools. This would help children excel in sciences and maths, widen access to arts and build a modern careers advice and work experience system. 

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said Labour’s plans will “make a real difference to parents with school-aged children”. But he added that plans to address the challenges facing nurseries, pre-schools and childminders must also be central to transforming the childcare sector.

He said: “Years of underfunding and poor policymaking has left the early years facing a severe recruitment and retention crisis, and mass setting closures – with around 4,000 providers shutting in the last year alone – leaving children unable to access vital early education and parents struggling to find the affordable, reliable childcare they need. As such, any plan to solve the ‘childcare crisis’ must start with the early years and must include a long-term plan for the sector based on realistic, sustainable funding.”

Jo Ralling, of the Food Foundation, added: “We have over 800,000 children living in poverty who currently do not qualify for a free school meal and the government urgently needs to extend the scheme. We know that well-nourished children have better attendance, increased concentration which leads to better academic results. It’s great to see Labour announce on breakfast but this does not go far enough to tackle the food poverty our children are facing.”

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