Andrea Leadsom Says Supporting Parents Is A “Major Battleground Issue” For 2023
Andrea Leadsom said early years support will be a key battleground at the next election (Alamy)
Former cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom is determined to put supporting families at the top of the Conservative agenda for 2023, as the party seeks to regain support, particularly among young voters.
“I think it's a major, major battleground issue for the next election, and I want every Conservative to have on their pledge cards ‘we have delivered the best start for life programme’,” she told PoliticsHome.
“We have a problem with younger voters, we have a problem with particularly young female voters.”
She hoped that as well as being able to promise the next generation a better future through tackling climate change, the Conservatives would be able to say in the immediate future that “we are giving every baby the chance at the best start for life”.
Unlike a number of Conservative MPs, Leadsom, who was elected in 2010 and has since served as a minister in multiple departments under several prime ministers before returning to the backbenches, has no intention of standing down before the next election.
Having convinced the Treasury to allocate £500m to the new Family Hubs Network in last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review, she is committed to continuing the project she devised after being appointed as the government's Early Years Healthy Development Adviser in 2020 and making the hubs in the first 75 local authority areas that will receive the funding work.
She says the project is about providing “the best start for life” to families, with a joined-up approach giving universal services such as midwifery, health visiting, mental health support, breastfeeding support, safeguarding and disability support all in one place.
The project aims to “build on the legacy” of Sure Start Centres, a parental support initiative introduced under the last Labour government, but that has seen its funding cut by an average 53 per cent since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, with the most deprived areas disproportionately impacted.
“They’re creating this ‘how to’ guide on your start for life offer, which is those six services plus other things like smoking cessation, advice on domestic violence reduction, local transport advice, debt counselling, speaking English as a foreign language and so on, to help families in that critical early period,” Leadsom explained.
She says she has long been passionate about early years support, but believes the Family Hubs Network could be crucial in helping to turn the Tory party’s fortunes around as they consistently face Labour poll leads of 20 points or more.
But she says selling the initiative to the public is key. “At the heart of all this is you've got to tell every parent who is expecting a baby: ‘you are entitled to a universal set of start to life services, and here's a piece of paper that tells you where your nearest Family Hub is’,” she explained.
While childcare is not covered by Leadsom’s role as an early years adviser, she strongly believes it is an issue the government must urgently tackle, in order to prevent it from being “very prescriptive” and too expensive.
“In my view, the answer to it is to give every new parent a budget for their childcare entitlement from birth until their child goes to school, then you can either adjust that budget upwards or downwards depending on affordability,” she said.
The idea of a childcare budget was a central pillar of Penny Mordaunt’s Conservative leadership campaign last summer, which Leadsom ran. Liz Truss also used the summer’s leadership campaign to promise to reform childcare funding, before briefly becoming prime minister in the autumn. But when Rishi Sunak eventually entered No 10 after Truss’s demise, the issue was conspicuously absent from his agenda.
Leadsom is supportive of Sunak, and positive about his ability to win back Conservative support ahead of the next election.
“I think 2023 has to be a year of new beginnings andI think that certainly Rishi Sunak’s ambition to see us through and out the other side of this incredibly difficult cost of living crisis, high inflation, sky high energy prices, is great,” she said.
She is especially impressed by his promise to tackle the asylum backlog which she believes shows “real determination to deal with some of the frustrations” that are shared by the public.
“I think next year, what I would like to see is us getting back on the front foot, and seizing the huge opportunity we have in leading the world in green industries,” she added.
Leadsom is also confident that the Conservatives can put their internal party differences behind them, and not have a repeat of last year where backbenchers and ministers moved to oust their leader on two occasions.
She said: “I think all colleagues are totally committed to winning the next general election, and making a pitch to people in this country that we are the ones who are competent to get us through this period, and out the other side stronger than we were before.”
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