‘Supervised toothbrushing for children in free breakfast clubs’ under Labour

Labour plans to introduce supervised toothbrushing for young children in free breakfast clubs under plans to boost the health of children across the nation.

Sir Keir Starmer said tooth decay should be “consigned to the history books” as he announced plans to boost dental services to ensure children can get appointments when they need one.

Labour previously said it would introduce supervised toothbrushing in schools for children aged three to five.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer said tooth decay should be ‘consigned to the history books’ (PA)

But the announcement drew criticism from teaching unions, with leaders saying it is “not the role of teachers to be making sure children brush their teeth each day”.

The party has now honed in on the detail of the plans, saying the “targeted” national supervised toothbrushing programme would be rolled out in “fully funded breakfast clubs”.

The clubs will be introduced in every primary school so “every child is able to start the day with a healthy breakfast and parents are able to get to work”, Labour said.

Other aspects of Labour’s child health action plan include introducing a 9pm watershed for junk food ads, banning vape adverts aimed at children, better access to mental health support, cutting waiting times for hospital care for children, ensuring more dental appointments and making sure child health is a cross-government priority.

Speaking before a visit to a leading children’s hospital, Sir Keir said: “Tooth decay, stunted growth and stalling life expectancy should be consigned to the history books, but instead they’re the reality of Tory Britain.

“The biggest casualty of the short-term, sticking-plaster politics of the last 14 years are our nation’s children. My Labour government will turn this around.

“Healthy, happy children is not a nice to have, it’s a basic right, with economic urgency. We want the next generation to be chasing their dreams, not a dentist appointment. They should be aspiring to reach their potential, not reach a doctor.

“Labour will end the scandal of children being held back by poor health and regional inequalities by slashing waits for mental health treatment and hospital appointment, putting prevention first, and fixing NHS dentistry.

“That’s the future our children and young people deserve, and that’s the future a Labour Government will deliver.”

Commenting on the plan, Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “At present, the UK has some of the worst child health outcomes in Europe, and child health inequalities continue to widen.

“It is therefore welcome to see the Labour party’s intention to publish a dedicated Child Health Action Plan, which outlines many of the calls paediatricians have been making repeatedly – including tackling paediatric waiting times, supporting the health prevention agenda and providing support for child mental health.”

Andy Bell, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, added: “Children and young people’s mental health in England has got worse over the last decade, and especially since 2020. As child poverty has worsened and services supporting families have been cut, more children are experiencing poor mental health, and there are record referrals to mental health services.

Portrait of little girl cleaning her teeth (Alamy/PA)
The UK currently has some of the worst child health outcomes in Europe, according to health experts (Alamy/PA)

“We need urgent action both to improve children’s mental health in the first place, and to respond to rising levels of distress. We welcome Labour’s proposals to improve support for children and young people’s mental health.”

Dr Lade Smith, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The number of children struggling with their mental health has increased significantly in recent years, with more young people presenting to services in crisis. It is positive to see commitments being made by the Labour Party to tackle this issue and reduce NHS waiting lists.

“Every child deserves to have access to fast and effective care as soon as they need it, not weeks or even months later.”

But Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “While it’s good to see that supervising toothbrushing won’t be a part of the school day itself, or an expectation of teachers, we remain somewhat sceptical about how this will work in practice.

“Questions remain about access to the facilities required to make this proposal work and the staffing implications for breakfast clubs.

“There is no doubt that, as a nation, we should be focused on improving children’s dental health, but this will certainly need further thought and additional funding.”

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, added: “While fully funded breakfast club provision will be a positive development for many schools, school lunches are seen by many school staff as a more effective mechanism for tackling child hunger. The NEU would hope Labour can go further by committing to free school meals for all children.”

He added: “What is essential to the effective rollout of breakfast clubs and toothbrushing supervision, however, is sufficient funding and staffing levels. It is not at all clear who will administer these new drives.

“Schools should be able to deliver these programmes free from the worry of budget constraints and increases to staff workload.”

Public Health Minister Andrea Leadsom MP said: “Given Sir Keir Starmer’s ‘blueprint’ for the country is a record of failure, he should focus on fixing his own house before criticising others.

“In Wales, Labour is overseeing the longest hospital waits in Great Britain, are the only administration to have cut the NHS budget since 2010, have underfunded the NHS and consistently fail to meet targets.

“Labour’s unfunded promises on healthcare in England would cost taxpayers billions, in addition to the £28 billion a year by 2030 spending promise they have already committed to and would inevitably hike up taxes to fund.

“This is the same old Labour of more spending and more taxes.

“The Conservative Government is taking the long-term decisions to protect the health of future generations – including creating a new smoke-free generation, protecting all our children from harmful vaping and creating family hubs across England to support every family to give their baby the best start for life.”