What’s in the political parties’ manifestos for babies?

By Tamora Langley, Head of Policy and Communications at the Parent-Infant Foundation 

After working with the First 1001 Days Steering Group to develop and launch the ‘Manifesto for Babies’ earlier this year, we have been waiting to see what the political parties would commit to in their manifestos.  All have now been published, so what should we make of them?  

The big picture 

Manifestos set out what a political party would do in government.  There is no template, so some are longer than others.  Manifestos are drafted to highlight a party’s priorities, as well as wider policy proposals.  No manifesto covers every policy area, so programmes that are not mentioned may continue, even if they are not mentioned.  However, with public spending budgets expected to be squeezed, ongoing funding of programmes like Start for Life that are not mentioned in manifestos, cannot be taken for granted.  To gain further funding beyond the current financial year, we will have to make the case to the new government that’s elected in July.  
It is encouraging to see every main party has made at least one commitment that aligns with our ‘Manifesto for Babies’.  We would have liked to see more, and further detail too, but there are welcome statements of intent, plans to review (and reviews still to be published) as well as some bold ambitions for babies and young children.   

For example, Labour’s manifesto states, “an ambition to raise the healthiest generation of children in our history.” by,“reform[ing] the NHS to ensure we give mental health the same attention and focus as physical health.” A bold ambition.  But not as specific as we would like in terms of what that means for babies. As well as the manifestos, we need to look at the wider policy picture to understand what the parties are planning. 

For example, prior to the election being called, Labour commissioned an independent review to inform a “long-term cross-government strategy for mental health”.  One of the three objectives of this review was to ‘prevent mental ill-health’. We attended a stakeholder consultation session and submitted written evidence on the crucial role that parent-infant relationship teams and other services play supporting vulnerable babies and their families.  We expect this policy work to continue, should Labour form the next government.  

Start for Life 

The last government’s Start for Life programme brought a welcome focus on babies, and an injection of public money, after many years of cuts.  Our ‘Manifesto for Babies’ called for Start for Life funding to be extended and for every neighbourhood to have a Family Hub or Children’s Centre.   We, therefore, welcomed a commitment in the Conservative manifesto to deliver a Family Hub in every local authority in England.   However, the main parties’ manifestos make no commitments on other elements of Start for Life.  The programme only began in earnest two years ago, and we know from the history of Sure Start that it takes more than two years to judge success.   

As with Labour’s mental health strategy mentioned above, Labour’s Early Years strategy was also being developed as the election was called. The First 1001 Days Movement submitted evidence to the party’s independent review earlier this year.  As the findings are not yet published, we expect work to continue should Labour win the election.  Also, we were heartened to hear Bridget Phillipson say that, should she become Education Secretary, “the early years would be my priority”.    
We will continue to make the case for investment in babies once a new government is formed and point out that this is an urgent issue. Babies cannot wait for the economy to recover – they are only babies for a short period of time! 
Early education, childcare and parental leave 
Childcare and early education is where the most significant manifesto spending commitments on babies were made by the parties.  The Conservative manifesto repeats the party’s announcement of 15 hours of free childcare per week, from September, for eligible parents of babies aged nine months to two years old. This rises to 30 hours in September 2025. Labour’s manifesto matches this, and proposes to, “open an additional 3,000 nurseries through upgrading space in primary schools.”  Neither are specific on how the quality of early education will be improved, nor how workforce challenges will be addressed. 
Our ‘Manifesto for Babies’ makes the point that, “supporting babies’ healthy development is equally important a policy objective as getting new parents back to work” and makes recommendations for training and valuing the workforce (as well as supporting parents and carers to have time to care).   
We called for, “A rapid review of the tax and benefits system for parents and carers of under-2s”, which could look at how the tax and benefits system could better support parents and carers, so we were pleased to see in Labour’s manifesto a commitment to review the parental leave system in their first year of government.  Labour acknowledge that, “High-quality early education and childcare is a crucial opportunity to transform life chances.”   Should Labour form the next government, we will continue to press for training in infant mental health for nursery staff and all those working in paid settings caring for under-2s, as part of a wider early years workforce strategy.   
The ‘Manifesto for Babies also calls for six weeks’ well-paid paternity and parental leave, to help fathers to play a more active role. We, therefore, welcomed the Liberal Democrat manifesto proposals to increase paid parental leave. Labour’s manifesto commits to introduce basic rights from day one for parental leave.  
Mental health policy and infant mental health  
Children’s mental health has been steadily rising up political agendas as demand for services (and rates of mental health conditions in children) have risen.   
Labour’s manifesto warns that, “Britain is currently suffering from a mental health epidemic that is paralysing lives, particularly those of children and young people.” However, the manifesto commitments that follow are focused on school-aged children, and unlikely to reach babies and toddlers.   
Our ‘Manifesto for Babies’ notes the ongoing challenge of under-provision of services for children aged 0-2. Although there has been growth in the number of specialised parent-infant teams and some related services in recent years, provision still falls far short of estimated need.  Growth in services has been driven by several factors; dedicated funding from central government through Start for Life; voluntary sector funding; and the development of parent-infant relationship support within perinatal services.   That said, provision remains patchy. The ‘Manifesto for Babies’ recommends that the NHS Long Term Plan is updated to include a national target to support an estimated 60,000 vulnerable babies in England over the next five years. This figure is derived from Start for Life’s assessment of the number of babies at risk of disorganised attachment. 
The party manifestos do not say what updates will be made to the NHS Long Term Plan. However, should Labour win, we expect them to progress work on a Mental Health Strategy, within which infant mental health must feature.  The Conservative manifesto says the party will, “publish and implement a Major Conditions Strategy”.  We would expect this strategy  to include infant mental health, because the policy framework for this strategy cited infant mental health.  
Some babies are supported indirectly through maternity and perinatal mental health services. Investment in these services supports vulnerable babies too (in families where the mother’s health is impacting on the baby).  The ‘Manifesto for Babies’ notes that, “good support for maternal mental health is key” and welcomes, “investment in improving perinatal mental health services.” Manifestos include a range of commitments on maternal health, including the Conservative manifesto promise to “deliver additional funding for maternal safety and improve access to mental health services for new mums…”.  The Liberal Democrat manifesto commits to, “transforming perinatal mental health support for those who are pregnant, new mothers and those who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth.” 
Persistent staffing vacancies and rising caseloads have drastically affected the care many babies, toddlers and families receive. The ‘Manifesto for Babies’ calls for: “a social care and early years workforce plan to complement the NHS Workforce Plan, help plug workforce gaps and improve staff retention”.  
The Conservative manifesto recommits to the NHS Workforce Plan, which sets out additional numbers of doctors, nurses, health visitors, midwives and other professionals to be recruited and trained. However, as this plan was developed by and for the NHS, it does not cover the wider early years, local authority or voluntary sector workforces that support babies’ early development. Labour’s manifesto also promises to deliver the NHS Workforce Plan, including increases in mental health professionals. Regarding the social care workforce, Labour commits to, “ensure the publication of regular, independent workforce planning, across health and social care.”  And the Liberal Democrat manifesto echoes our recommendation and promises, “a social care workforce plan, akin to the NHS England Workforce Plan”. 
A single child identifier  
Social care, secure or early years settings do not necessarily use or connect with the NHS system. This makes it harder for services supporting vulnerable babies to share information and “join the dots”.  As information sharing is key to providing better services and preventing harm, the ‘Manifesto for Babies’ recommended a unique child identifier for every baby, used by all relevant public services. We welcome the Labour manifesto commitment to, “Improve data sharing across services, with a single unique identifier, to better support children and families.”   
Child poverty and health inequalities 
Families where the youngest child is under 5 are known to experience particularly high rates of poverty.  Our ‘Manifesto for Babies’ warns that babies’ experience of poverty affects their development, and that developmental outcomes of two-year olds are in decline.  Our manifesto called on the next government to, “commit to tackle child poverty and scrap the two-child limit policy.”   
Labour’s manifesto promises, “an ambitious strategy to reduce child poverty”, but does not commit to scrapping the two-child limit.  The Liberal Democrat manifesto promises to scrap the two-child limit and proposes a “Toddler Top-Up’: an enhanced rate of Child Benefit for one-year-olds.”   
We also called in the Manifesto for Babies for, “Integrated Care Systems to be held accountable for their statutory duty to reduce health inequalities and invest in services that support babies’ social and emotional development.”  and for, “services to be co-produced with families to reach the most vulnerable babies in marginalised and isolated families.” 
The Liberal Democrat manifesto commits to, “increasing the Public Health Grant, with a proportion of the extra funding set aside for those experiencing the worst health inequalities to co-produce plans for their communities”. 
The Green Party and Reform 
Both the Green Party and Reform had Members of Parliament before the election was called,and have published manifestos that warrant reading. While there is not space here to review these in full, the Green Party manifesto pledges, “an additional £3bn to enable local authorities to provide high-quality children’s social care”. 
Reform’s manifesto promises, “Choice for Stay-at-Home Mums or Dads”, adding that, “front-loading the Child Benefit system for children aged 1-4 would give parents the choice to spend more time with their children.”  
Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru 
The SNP and Plaid Cymru are standing candidates for election to Westminster, but only in Scotland and Wales.  Both parties had MPs in Westminster before the election was called and have published manifestos.  As these are manifestos for Westminster, the focus is on policies that are UK-wide, rather than devolved.  
Both the SNP and Plaid manifestos promise to scrap the two-child benefit cap. Elsewhere the parties stress policies they would seek to achieve in their respective devolved nation.  For example, Plaid Cymru outlines the party’s vision for, “a national and free Welsh-medium early years education and childcare service, Meithrin Cymru, providing high quality provision for children aged 12 months until they are eligible for full time education.” While the SNP manifesto urges the UK Government to, “increase shared parental leave from 52 to 64 weeks, with the additional 12 weeks to be the minimum taken by the father on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis, in order to encourage an increase in shared parental leave”. 
We have not undertaken a full analysis here but recommend reading the manifestos if you are casting your vote in Wales or Scotland. 
None of the parties have done everything we called for, or as much as we would like.  However, several recommendations of the ‘Manifesto for Babies’ have been taken up by one party or more. 

Looking ahead, with public finances expected to be tight, we will need to make an urgent case to the next government to continue funding existing programmes like Start for Life.   We will also urge them to be more ambitious, by considering babies more fully in their mental health/major conditions and early years strategies.