Labour has tried to make a stark contrast between its policies and those of the Conservatives by portraying itself as the party of investment and the Tories as the party of cuts. This sparked a political storm after Ed Balls claimed that the Tories would cut the Sure Start service for pre-school children from middle- income families rather than preserving the universal service. Labour claims the Tories would cut £200m each year from the budget, which could see one in five children's centres being forced to close. It has also backed plans to promote all types of stable relationship, rather than just marriage. Its plans for the family include more support for fathers and grandparents, and improving flexible working for parents.
Battlelines have been drawn over family policy with both David Cameron and Gordon Brown trying to outdo the other in making Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe. The Conservatives have resisted giving details of how they would change the tax system to "recognise marriage" ever since the promise was first made during Mr Cameron's leadership campaign. David Cameron propelled marriage to the centre of the election campaign when he surprised the Tory party faithful and promised to spell out his flagship policy in his manifesto. The Tories would also hire an extra 2,700 health visitors to support parents and pledge to provide every family with a guaranteed level of support. They would like dedicated health visitors to build relationships with families from before the birth of any children right through the early years.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to help all new parents with a massive extension to parental leave. They would introduce 19 months of more generously paid parental leave, to be taken by either parent, from when a child is born. Currently mothers can take up to 12 months off work after the birth of a child, nine months of which is paid at £123 a week. Fathers currently get just two weeks off. The Liberal Democrats argue that this is unfair and that women are forced to take the lion's share of the responsibility for raising the child even if a couple would rather divide things more equally. In a policy designed to appeal to all families buckling under spiralling childcare costs, the Liberal Democrats would also offer all parents free childcare for all children aged between 18 months and five years.Reuse content