The renewal of Labour's election pledge by Ann Taylor, the party's spokeswoman on education, promises to become a central battleground with the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, who are competing for women's votes in the local elections.
In November, John Major launched a drive to match Labour's commitment by offering a nursery place to all three-year-olds, but the Government is having trouble producing an affordable scheme.
One long-term option being studied by social security ministers is limiting child benefit to parents with children of five or under. The savings would be recycled into nursery education or child minding to help parents take jobs, to lift them out of the poverty trap. They are targeting more help at lone parents, in spite of the earlier controversy over alleged queue-jumping on housing waiting lists.
Labour believes the Government initiative will be limited to the offer of vouchers for play schemes. 'They are useful, but they are not a substitute for nursery education,' a senior Labour source said.
Labour went into the last election promising to fulfil its commitment on nurseries by 2000, within two terms of office. Privately, senior party sources said Labour could not go into the next election with a commitment to deliver by the end of the century. 'We are being open about it. It is a very big commitment and it will take more than one term of office,' said the source.Reuse content