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Public spending cuts versus free nursery education

Article By: Richard Howard, News Editor

Children’s charity UNICEF have released a report that ranks the UK as bottom of a table of rich countries, as far as child well-being is concerned, while sending a clear warning to Government that public spending cuts risk worsening the situation.

The charity’s deprivation index measures relative poverty based on household income but, despite ranking the UK as performing worse than other nations, UNICEF finds that the country performed well in the early years of the economic crisis, praising the previous Labour administration for making public services more accessible through tax credits and cash transfers.

Executive director David Bull commented on ‘Measuring Child Poverty’: “This report shows how committed Government action can make a big difference for children. The UK should be proud that our commitment to end child poverty by 2020 in the past has seen a clear improvement in reducing child poverty and protecting vulnerable children from deprivation.

“However, we know that the number of children living in poverty in the UK is set to increase due to spending cuts. This will be a catastrophic blow to the futures of thousands of children, putting at risk their future health, education and chances of employment. One thing is clear; Government policies to tackle the deficit must not harm children. There is only one chance at childhood – we cannot see a generation, growing up in austerity, denied the chance to fulfil their potential.”

The report comes in the same week that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is due to announce a shake-up of how free nursery education is delivered, which includes more flexibility over how parents use free provision, as well as naming ten pilot areas to trial new methods for disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, Purmina Tanuku OBE, has welcomed this fresh approach though stressed that nurseries must have enough support to avoid cost increases elsewhere if they are to live up to their free entitlement obligations.

“Government commitment to funding of childcare places for two year olds is very welcome. Nurseries already involved in the two year old pilot schemes have given us very positive feedback on the difference they have seen it make to children.

“Nurseries are ready to play their part in offering free places. In a recent NDNA survey 63% of nurseries said they were interested in offering funded two year old places. However the funding allocated to early years provision must cover costs otherwise it is not sustainable for many nurseries to participate in the free entitlement, without pushing up the price of paid-for care for other parents. It is vital that nursery costs are covered to ensure there are the 260,000 additional places for two year olds, which are needed by September 2014, can be created. We welcome the announcement that funding for two year old places will be in the Dedicated Schools Grant that goes to local authorities, as the money will be ringfenced and can only be spent on education. We would like to see local authorities passing on this money to nurseries, so it gets to the frontline to cover the costs of childcare.”

Image: Nick Clegg talks to children in Chelmsford, Essex; courtesy of Liberal Democrats’ photostream


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