General election 2015: Childcare will be key battleground in as all three parties prepare to release their plans

 

Political Editor

A Bill to introduce “tax-free childcare” will be included in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday as the three main parties seek to make the issue a critical one at next year’s general election.

The Coalition will push through legislation to help 1.9 million families with soaring childcare bills by providing state help worth up to £2,000 a year per child, funding 20 per cent of the cost up to £10,000 a year. The £750 million-a-year scheme will take effect in autumn next year, and all children under 12 will be covered within a year. It applies when both parents - or single parents - are in work.

Labour is planning a “big offer” on childcare in its election manifesto. Instead of cash help, Ed Miliband’s party has pledged to extend the amount of “free” childcare for three- and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week at a cost of £800 million annually.

Lucy Powell, the shadow Minister for Childcare and Children and Mr Miliband’s former deputy chief of staff, is pressing Labour to go further. Privately, Labour insiders admit that they would like to offer free universal childcare, but that it would cost billions and in the current financial climate looks more than a decade away. Childcare is likely to feature on Labour’s “pledge card” of a few key policies as Mr Miliband tries to boil down his “cost of living” campaign to a message that can be explained on the doorstep. Others could include a plan to freeze energy prices for 20 months; a possible freeze or cap on rail fares and a big boost to housebuilding.

Ms Powell is embroiled in a battle for the “hardworking parents’ vote” with Liz Truss, the junior education minister responsible for childcare, a rising Conservative star tipped for promotion when David Cameron reshuffles his ministerial team shortly. The struggle between two feisty, ambitious women could prove to be an important one.

Ms Truss is urging school nurseries to open from 8am to 6pm to help working parents juggle childcare, but critics say the move will not be backed by hard cash or by Ofsted inspections to ensure high quality provision.

The Childcare Bill will be a flagship measure for the Liberal Democrats. Although George Osborne has announced details in his last two Budgets, Nick Clegg has been heavily involved in shaping the Bill. “It is one of the measures we will look back on with great pride,” said a Lib Dem source.

However, independent analysts say that 80 per cent of the gains will go to people in the top half of the income scale. The cut-off point is an annual salary of £150,000, so a couple with a joint income of £300,000 would still qualify for state help. 

Vidhya Alakeson, deputy chief executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank, welcomed the parties’ competition on childcare but said the rival plans build on one element of the existing system, without really reducing the complexity that makes it difficult to navigate for parents. She said: “While tax free childcare extends support to many families who are currently unable to access childcare vouchers, putting money directly in the hands of parents tends not to hold down prices which have risen greatly over the last decade.”

Ms Alakeson added: “Investing directly in subsidised places has a stronger international track record of delivering high quality, affordable childcare support, especially to those on lower incomes. However, as things stand neither proposal significantly addresses the quality deficit in childcare and there is still a big question as to whether existing spending [about £6 billion] could be used more effectively. Quality matters if we want childcare to have a positive impact on children’s development and get them ready for school, as well as supporting parents to work.”

A survey by the Family Childcare Trust in March found that many parents  pay more for their children to be looked after - £7,549 a year for one child in a part-time nursery and another in an after-school club - than they pay in mortgages [£7,207 a year].

Childcare: What do the parties propose?

Conservatives

  • Introduced 15 hours of “free” childcare for parents of three- and four-year-olds who have not started school, for 38 weeks of the year.
  • From autumn 2015, parents will be able to claim back up to £2,000 a year in costs per child. For every 80p families pay, the Government will put in 20p up to a £10,000 annual limit. Will replace employer-supported childcare vouchers.

Labour

  • Would increase the 15 hours of “free” childcare to 25 hours in £800 million scheme funded through higher levy on the banks.
  • Legislation would ensure “wraparound” provision from 8am to 6pm in primary schools; some could club together to deliver it.

Liberal Democrats

  • Instrumental in ensuring two-year-olds from poor families are entitled to 15 hours of “free” childcare. The proportion covered will double to 40 per cent in September.
  • Considering plans to extend “free” hours to one-year olds to fill the gap between the end of maternity leave and the two- year-old offer. But would be very expensive because of tight ratios and the additional facilities babies require.
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup