Speaking today at the Pre-school Learning Alliance annual conference in Birmingham, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne said Labour’s future policy focus would be to reduce unemployment by increasing childcare availability.
“We need a childcare revolution in this country. You should be leading the charge and we should be getting behind you,” said Byrne to the audience of early years practitioners.
Byrne said the party was looking at childcare models from abroad, including in Denmark and Quebec, Canada.
“In Denmark they have high quality services, respect for staff, ratios that make sense and a lot more provision,” he said.
“We want to turn these ideas into policy over the next two years.”
He added that 10 per cent more women are in work in Denmark than in the UK.
"If we matched that we would have one million more women in work in the UK," he added.
Byrne described meetings with parents in his Birmingham constituency who told him they were unable to work because they couldn’t find childcare.
“People have heard about the two-year-old entitlement that is allegedly coming, but it’s hard to locate,” said Byrne.
He said parents welcomed the free entitlement for three and four-year-olds, but they complained of only being able to access provision in “bitesize chunks”.
Byrne also congratulated the sector, in particular Pre-school Learning Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch, for its successful anti-ratios campaign, which he credited for pushing the government’s decision to cancel the reform proposals.
“As a parent I want to say thank you for all you’ve done. You make the world of a difference and should be so proud of the achievement you scored in parliament this week, as well as the work you do every day,” he said.
In his address, Leitch praised for practitioners’ determination in the campaign to prevent an increase in child-to-staff ratios in early years settings prompted a spontaneous applause.
“Making the stand we did is one of the proudest thinks I’ve done in years,” he said.
Leitch also joked that when he heard news from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that he had blocked the policy, he couldn’t help making a “selfish comment”.
“I told him, ‘I’m going to have to re-write my speech now’,” he said. “And what am I going to do with 2,000 Re-wind On Ratios balloons?”
The Alliance led a petition against plans to alter child-to-staff ratios, called Re-wind On Ratios, which was signed by 14,000 people.