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Liberal Democrats launch election manifesto with promise to invest in early years education

by Jess Gibson

The Liberal Democrats have launched their election manifesto, in which they pledge to invest in the early years sector, and ensure early education and childcare access that is “flexible, affordable and fair” for all families.

The manifesto, which Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey has described as “fully costed”, also promises to close the attainment gap by giving disadvantaged children aged three and four an extra five funded hours early education entitlement a week, as well as tripling the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 a year.

This extra five funded hours policy would then be extended to disadvantaged two-year-olds when public finances allow to start building towards a universal, full-time entitlement for all two- to four-year-olds.

The manifesto outlines plans to review current provider rates for funded hours and develop a career strategy for nursery staff, which will include a training programme placing emphasis on identifying and supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities.

In addition, the election manifesto pledges to:

  • restore childminding as a valued part of the early years system by:
    • replacing the three different current registration processes with a single childcare register.
    • commissioning a practitioner-led review to simplify regulation, reduce administrative burdens and attract new childminders while maintaining high standards.
  • give parents genuine flexibility and choice in the crucial early months by:
    • ensuring parental pay and leave are day-one rights, including for adoptive parents and kinship carers, and extending them to self-employed parents.
    • doubling Statutory Maternity and Shared Parental Pay to £350 a week.
    • increasing pay for paternity leave to 90% of earnings, with a cap for high earners.
    • introducing an extra use-it-or-lose-it month for fathers and partners, paid at 90% of earnings, with a cap for high earners.
    • requiring large employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies.
    • introducing a ‘Toddler Top-Up’ – an enhanced rate of Child Benefit for one-year-olds.

Commenting, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years 91ɫƵ, said: "At the 91ɫƵ, we have long called for an early years strategy which recognises the vital need for every child to access high-quality early years while ensuring that the sector itself can sustainably deliver this. As such, it is positive to see that the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto includes several policies that look to address this – particularly the pledges to treble Early Years Pupil Premium, review funding rates and implement a career strategy for the workforce.  

"Ultimately, however, the devil is in the detail. While we welcome the party's commitment to the sector and the big promises it has put forward today, so far, detail on how these would be implemented remains scant. 

"Let's not forget, the general election comes as a pivotal time for the sector as it grapples with the expanded early entitlement rollout against a backdrop of a staffing crisis and consistently low levels of underfunding. It is therefore crucial that whichever party forms the next government is not only willing to commit to addressing longstanding sector challenges on paper, but is also clear on how exactly they will do so in practice. "