Labour’s new childcare settlement is sign of intent

Labour’s message for parents on childcare this week is that Britain can do better. Labour has certainly thrown down the gauntlet.

With Stephen Twigg (and Yvette Cooper’s) announcement of guaranteed wraparound childcare for primary school children and Ed Balls’ bold pledge to increase free childcare for three- and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours Labour has a powerful retail offer to campaign on the doorstep.

The announcements in Brighton this week show Labour is shaping a major new settlement on childcare for working parents.

David Cameron’s childcare crisis has seen prices rise at almost double the rate of inflation, and places plummet as cuts eat away at early years provision. With some families losing up to £1,500 per year due to cuts to tax credits, paying for childcare has become an increasing problem for families buffeted by the cost of living crisis.

The Tories just don’t get it. While Cameron has found money now to give millionaires a tax break, his tax free childcare plans for parents won’t come in until 2015 and will benefit the richest the most.

At a Progress roundtable on Wednesday with the Childcare Voucher Providers Association and 4Children Labour’s radical plans were warmly welcomed. This excellent roundtable event brought together key organisations and individuals to discuss the childcare challenges for parents and the sector.

Extending the free offer for three- and four-year-olds to 25 hours will be a big boost for working parents. This £800m investment in childcare will get our economy moving and help some of the seven in 10 mums who want to work but are frozen out of the labour market because of crippling childcare fees. Crucially, 25 hours means that mums could now work part-time without having to worry about paying for childcare. Wraparound childcare will help the many mums and dads who juggle work and family life but find it increasingly difficult to find accessible childcare that fits in with work.

I’ve long argued that childcare should be seen as an important plank of infrastructure investment and that we should plan and invest in childcare because it is an investment that will pay dividends to the Treasury by helping women back into work.

Taken together, these announcements on childcare signal Labour’s intent to put dealing with childcare costs and availability at the heart of our economic plans.

There is more to do on shaping a truly parent-focused childcare policy which gives returning mums active choices after maternity. I will keep campaigning for further support especially at those crucial decision points for parents like when first returning to work.

Labour’s big, bold moves on childcare will be welcomed by parents across the country. They are a powerful sign that Labour is on the side of parents and focused on getting our economy moving by empowering women to get back in the workplace.

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Lucy Powell is MP for Manchester Central and a vice-chair of Progress. She tweets @LucyMPowell

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Photo: National Apprenticeship Service

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