Grandparents and other home-based carers should be paid to look after youngsters, the former cabinet minister Stephen Byers suggested yesterday.
The former transport minister said parents employing a nanny should also receive state help in an attempt to increase the amount of child care.
He supported plans, hinted at by the Children's Minister, Margaret Hodge, to charge middle-class parents so child care can be free for less well-off families.
The move would allow the Government to extend its pledge of a childcare place for every three and four-year-old.
Writing in left-wing magazine Tribune, Mr Byers underlined "weaknesses" in the Government's childcare strategy. He said: "We still have a childcare lottery in this country with access to child care depending on where families live, level of income and whom they work for.
"The reality is that we have too many children missing out on the benefits of quality child care with research showing how children's learning, emotional and social development prosper with good quality care. If we are serious about providing universal child care soparents have a genuine choice at a price they can afford, we need to re-think the national childcare strategy."
Mr Byers warned: "Whilst places would be free to those on a low income, it would be reasonable to expect an income-related contribution from those who can afford it in order to have the additional places available and avoid the often prohibitively expensive private sector.
"This is a good example of where the concept of co-payment for public services, often spoken about by the Prime Minister, would have broad and popular support.
"Support should be extended to cover home-based child carers which would include nannies and informal child care. This would be a recognition that this is sometimes the only form of child care suitable for people working irregular hours.
"Thought needs to be given to those nuts and bolts questions like how to recruit and retain a high quality workforce; what kind of regulatory regime should be in place and how schools can play an extended role."