Childcare and early education reform will be key for four in 10 voters in their decision on who to back in a general election, a survey has suggested.
The research from the Early Education and Childcare Coalition (EECC) found that 51% think early education and childcare is about supporting a child’s development and wellbeing, rather than just being a safe place for parents to leave their children.
Almost two-thirds (59%) of voters said they believe good early years education benefits the whole country, rather than just parents, while 42% said childcare and early education reform will be key in their decision about who to vote for in the next election.
The online polling by research agency More in Common of 2,046 adults from across Great Britain in April was published as the EECC – a coalition formed by more than 30 organisations representing parents, children, providers, those working in early education, and businesses – was officially launched at Westminster on Thursday.
Some 40% of those who took part across England, Scotland and Wales said they support investing more taxpayers’ money in early education and childcare even if it means higher taxes for everyone.
Just under half (44%) said they think those working in childcare and early education are underpaid, while 31% believe childcare staff are undervalued.
Almost half of all voters (49%) said well-trained staff is an important factor when it comes to providing good-quality early education and childcare, with more than a third (36%) saying the same about decent pay.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced reforms for England in the Budget in March which will allow some families of children as young as nine months to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week.
From April next year, working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of free childcare. This will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September next year.
EECC acting director Sarah Ronan said: “Right now, we have an opportunity to truly transform the future of early education and childcare through sustainable reform of the sector.
“Voters understand that we all benefit from an early education and childcare sector with the right investment. Politicians need to understand that too, and invest accordingly.
“It’s clear from our data that childcare reform is not just a priority for parents now but for future parents too, and for grandparents who often find themselves plugging the gap created by the current broken system.
“British voters have told us here that they think the early education workforce is underpaid and undervalued.
“Parents don’t want ‘cheap childcare’ at the expense of quality or safety. They care about their children’s experience, and, importantly, they care about the people that care for and educate their children.”
Christina McAnea, general secretary of trade union Unison, which is a member of the coalition, said: “All children deserve high-quality care and education delivered by well-paid professionals.
“But early-years staff have endured more than a decade of wage freezes and below-average pay awards. The cost-of-living crisis has devalued their income even further, causing staff to leave for better-paid work.
“A proper wage is an investment in the workforce, leading to higher quality early-years care and learning.”
Responding to the research, the Early Years Alliance said previous manifesto pledges and policies “have focused on promising more and more ‘free childcare’, with no thought given to how to make this work in practice”
Its chief executive, Neil Leitch, said: “As the Coalition’s research shows, all political parties need to head into next election with the early years at the heart of their respective policy agendas.
“Anything less will not only fail to persuade voters but, in the long term, put the entire future of the sector at risk.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “We are rolling out the single biggest investment in childcare in England ever, expanding 30 free hours of childcare for working parents down to nine-months-old over the next two years, which is set to save a working parent using 30 hours of childcare up to an average of £6,500 per year.
“At the same time, we are increasing the funding paid to nurseries to deliver free government hours with a £204 million cash boost this year and £288 million next year – which can be used to fund staff salaries, training and wider costs.
“By 2027/28 we expect to be spending £8 billion in total every year to support parents with flexible and affordable childcare and give children the best quality early years education.”