General Election 2019: What are the 3 main parties offering families?
For the third time in less than five years, the UK will go to the polls on 12 December. Against a backdrop of Brexit, and a Convervative government paralysed by its minority in Parliament, it was only a matter of time before a general election would be called.
While many commentators and politicians are keen to make this election about Brexit, the electorate cannot responsibly make their vote about a single issue, no matter how much it has dominated our media and politics since 2016. Brexit remains a divisive matter in UK politics, which is reflected in the political impasse experienced by Parliament. A general election won’t necessarily change that, or expediate progress on Brexit.
This election is about so much more. And as a parent, I feel I have much more of a vested interest in society now that my son will grow up under policies implemented by subsequent governments. Furthermore, the policies of the next government will affect the effectiveness of my wife’s and my parenting and our family’s future overall.
Indirectly or otherwise, politics affects all of us and that includes parents. Want to buy or rent a family home? Affordable housing is going to matter to you. Want safe, open spaces for children to play? That means local authorities need sufficient funding to maintain parks and play areas. Even wanting desirable communities for children to grow up in is a political matter in responsible licensing for establishments to deter antisocial behaviour.
As parents, there are some areas that will specifically resonate with us. Education policy and its funding, childcare costs, climate change, healthcare, employment rights and mental health support for young people will all shape the future of today’s youth. Many parents will pay particular attention to the aforementioned in deciding how to cast their vote.
The parties will also have considered this as they court the sizeable parent vote. According to ONS data: of the 19.2 million families in the UK in 2019, 10.9 million of those families have dependent or non-dependent children. That’s a significant amount of parents and carers. It’s also a significant amount of potential electors.
Every party will be seeking the parent vote. So how are they setting out their stall to gain it with their policies in the key areas that will appeal to parents? What are the three main parties offering families in this general election?
Childcare and preschool
This will always be a focus for parents with young children. Childcare costs can be astronomical. And if you’re a working parent, the status quo leaves you with little choice but to take the financial hit on the chin.
Labour has pledged to provide 30 hours free, preschool education for all 2, 3 and 4 year olds, with additional hours being subsidised and staggered with income. For most working parents with children under three, that will certainly be considered a boon. In raising the standard in early years provision, free, on-the-job training will also be provided for early years workers. Sure Start centres, focused on under-twos, will also open in every community.
The Conservatives announced a new £1 billion fund for “affordable childcare, including before and after school and during the school holidays.” There isn’t a specific mention of preschool policy.
Under the Liberal Democrats, working parents would receive free childcare for children from nine months old and free childcare for all children from two years old. £1 billion a year would also be invested in children’s centres. Training and qualifications for early years workers would also be boosted, with at least one person qualified to graduate level and most staff having a relevant qualification or working towards one.
Schools and education
Along with healthcare, every party puts education at the heart of its domestic spending. A government’s record on education isn’t just about getting them re-elected, but the legacy their policies will have for the current generation. It’s generally believed that funding cuts have hit schools badly, with many schools having to rely on parents for additional cash. Staffing cuts have also seen academic and mental health support provisions cut across most schools.
Teaching is also a profession facing a morale and recruitment and retention crisis. The Department for Education (DfE) recently failed to meet its recruitment target for the seventh year in a row and teachers are leaving the profession in their droves. It’s a given that this is having an adverse impact on the quality and consistency of education. Consequently, this election gives the parties an opportunity to address that.
Labour plan a £10.5 billion funding boost for schools. In primary schools, every child will be provided with a free school meal. While the new Ofsted framework already aims to reverse years of the imbalanced focus on English and Maths, to the detriment of Science and non-core subjects, Labour has said they will push for a broader curriculum with the Arts being given further focus.
Along with Key stage 1 and 2 SATs and baseline assessments, which have driven a testing culture from a young age, Ofsted will be abolished. The body will be replaced with a new body for monitoring and driving standards in schools.
While this might seem like a policy that’s irrelevant to parents, many teachers question the effectiveness of Ofsted and the impact it has on a damaging and toxic culture in schools. It’s suggested by many teachers that it causes schools to focus on preparedness for Ofsted, rather than the well-being and progress of students. If removing that also provides happier, more effective teachers who are teaching our children, then it’s a policy that parents certainly need to consider as relevant.
In another radical move, Labour plan to bring free schools and academies under the control of “parents, teachers and local communities”.
The Conservative manifesto announced little new information for education. The £14 billion in funding mentioned in its manifesto is an existing policy of £7.1 billion a year. The UK Statistics Authority has also suggested the £14 billion figure could be misleading.
The party pledges to back headteachers on discipline, with exclusions being a tool at their disposal with fewer restrictions. Although it doesn’t mention alternative provision for those children that will be excluded. Similarly to Labour, the Conservatives do seek a more balanced curriculum with investment in the Arts and Sport.
Contrary to Labour, the Conservatives propose trialling “no notice inspections” and longer inspections by Ofsted. Parents will need to consider if it could be counter-productive, or if it would provide a fairer and more realistic reflection of schools than the status quo for inspections.
In line with Labour’s approach, the Liberal Democrats have similarly gone with a radical approach in their proposed education policy. £10.6 billion investment, with additional funds to local authorities to halve the amount that schools pay towards the cost of a child’s education, health and care plans for SEND students, is promised by the party.
The Liberal Democrats would also abolish Key Stage 1 and 2 SATs, league tables and Ofsted, replacing the latter with an “HM inspector of schools”. Also mirroring Labour’s manifesto, the Liberal Democrats would extend free school meals to all primary school children. Under the Liberal Democrats, school uniform policies would need to be gender neutral.
The party would oppose “any future expansion” of grammar schools and provide local authorities with wider powers in relation to all schools in their area -- including academies.
In a boost to the Arts, that all of the main parties have promised, the Liberal Democrats would also abolish the English Baccalaureate which has been criticised by some as incentivising the pursuit of core subjects.
Parental leave and family-friendly working
When deciding to start a family, working arrangements are a crucial consideration. How will the parental leave be shared? When will you return to work? How will childcare be balanced with regular working patterns and is your childcare affordable? How will you achieve sufficient work life balance to ensure you aren’t compromising your parenting? These are all conversations most parents will have. It’s therefore welcome to see this being acknowledged by all of the main parties.
Under a Labour government, paid maternity leave would increase to 12 months and paternity leave would increase to four weeks. While the latter is still quite conservative (no pun intended), shared parental leave does currently provide an opportunity to address that. Large employers would be required to have flexible working policies and consider parents in sickness and absence policies. Workers would also be able to request flexibility in their hours.
Similarly, the Conservatives say they will encourage flexible working and “consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to.” Legislation will protect new mothers returning from maternity leave against redundancy, and extended leave for neonatal care will be provided for parents. The manifesto also says “we will look at ways to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave” but does not detail a proposed policy around this.
The Liberal Democrats would increase statutory paternity leave to six weeks, two weeks more than offered by Labour, and “ensure that parental leave is a day-one right”. While it isn’t detailed how, the party say they will address inequalities faced by parents within same-sex relationships.
Mental health services for young people
Beyond young people, mental health in British society has suffered from insufficient funding and attention for far too long. With the negative impact social media can sometimes have on how we compare ourselves to polished, crafted depictions of others, this can be even more damaging for children.
Our testing culture in schools, and the pressure of modern society, contribute to stress, depression and anxiety amongst children. It’s fair to say that poor mental health amongst children and young people is worsening. Meanwhile, most schools have lost any full time counsellors they once had due to budget cuts. Mental health services for young people desperately need to be improved.
Labour outlined an £845 million plan for children and adolescent mental health services. A network of mental health hubs will allow children to access mental health support. They also plan to recruit 3,500 qualified counsellors to ensure every school has a school counsellor.
‘Mental health’ is mentioned three times in the Conservative manifesto. However, within those occurrences, there is no specific mention of mental health support for children and young people.
The Liberal Democrats will provide a dedicated member of staff in schools, responsible for the mental health of students. They would also be responsible for a whole school approach to mental health. Universities would need to make mental health services accessible to their students and this would be backed by a student mental health charter. While it’s already present in most schools via PSHE, further emphasis would be placed on mental health in the curriculum.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of priorities for parents when deciding on who to vote for. Indeed, tackling climate change is a huge priority that will affect the current generation of children’s futures, as is affordable housing. Brexit, which will likely continue to dominate the remainder of the election period and beyond, is also a significant consideration for most people. Put simply, politics affects all that we do, so most policies will affect our decision on how to cast our vote as a parent or otherwise.
What’s most important is that we do vote. British society is at a pivotal point and we need to all have a say in the direction we now take as a nation. On Thursday 12th December, voting is an opportunity to do just that.
Written by A Law.