I am often reminded by my colleague Dr Rajen Prasad and the community that migrants place high value on educating their children and giving them the best possible start in life.
This is often a major motivation for their migration to New Zealand and their preparedness to make enormous sacrifice to achieve this goal.
I also know that in New Zealand many families have the same ambition but are struggling to achieve it.
Labour has therefore developed ‘Best Start,’ a new package of policies for families with young children.
We all know that the first few years of a child’s life are the most vital. What happens in those early years affects how they learn, get on with other people, and the opportunities they have later in life.
Even though families want to give their children the opportunities that they need and deserve, the rising cost of living is making that harder for many parents.
Many families find themselves working longer hours, but are still not able to get ahead as costs rise and wages stand still.
The numbers speak for themselves. This year alone, housing prices in Auckland are up 15%, milk, cheese and eggs up 7% and meat and chicken up 8%.
As a society, we need to do more to ensure that opportunities exist for every child, no matter who they are or where they were born.
That is what ‘Best Start’ is all about; the first part of our plan is ‘Best Start payment of $60 a week in the first year of a baby’s life for families earning a combined income of less than $150,000 a year’
For families that are eligible for Paid Parental Leave, the payment will commence when it ends.
For families on low and modest incomes, this payment of up to $60 a week will continue until their child’s third birthday.
We will also help Kiwi children start learning early by increasing Free Early Childhood Education (ECE) to 25 hours, up from 20 hours for three and four year olds. High quality ECE makes a huge difference in a child’s early development.
Evidence shows for every dollar invested up to $11 is saved down the track.
As many parents have found, 20 free hours are not enough and do not always fit with Centre schedules.
With 25 hours a week, parents would have more choices, while continuing to build investment in our children.
Alongside this, Labour will expand access to ECE Centres, because free hours are not enough if you do not have a Centre in your neighbourhood, or if all the rolls are full.
Taken together, ‘Best Start’ will give more parents better access to higher quality ECE for their children.
Alongside these measures, we will also extend Paid Parental Leave to 26 weeks, ensuring that new parents get the time they need to bond with their children without having to rush back to work because of pressure on their household budget.
The ‘Best Start’ package will ensure that parents get more options and better support so that they can give their children the opportunities they deserve, and that is good for all of us.
Jacinda Ardern is a Member of Parliament on Labour List and the Party’s Spokesperson for Children, Corrections, Police and Arts, Culture and Heritage. She is seen here with Dr Rajen Prasad, also a Member of Parliament on Labour List and Spokesperson for Immigration) at Diwali 2013.