Universal child care `central' to Labour policy economic policy'

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Indy Politics
Universal, affordable and high- quality child care was yesterday put "at the centre of Labour party policy" by Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor.

On the day David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, launched an inquiry into how to increase nursery education and child care, Mr Brown said child care was at the centre "not just of our social policy, but of our economic strategy".

With women soon to be the majority of the workforce, child care was now "a key investment issue". Mr Brown declared that "the days of men-only economic policies - full employment only for men, educational and training opportunities geared towards men, a welfare state designed for men - are over". Indeed, he said in a paper published yesterday, "a men-only economic policy will fail". A modernised definition of full employment and the welfare state to meet women's aspirations was needed.

The Conservatives, he said, might talk about nursery education but they were merely "making and repeating promises they made 20 years ago which are still to be redeemed" - a reference to Margaret Thatcher's pledge to introduce it when Secretary of State for Education.

Britain had the lowest level of publicly funded child care in Europe, when studies had shown that subsidised child care could result in net gain to the Exchequer through a reduction in benefit payments and a rise in tax revenues from women. Civil servants had suggested options including extending play groups, employers' childcare provision and publicly funded provision.

He called for a partnership of public and private finance to provide child care, citing examples where employers had sponsored council nursery places and used the council to co-ordinate a childminding service for employees.