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All the Labour and Tory childcare pledges and how much they will cost

Labour has set out its plans to deliver a huge expansion in childcare by repurposing unused primary school classrooms into new on-site nurseries.

The party has previously been critical of the Conservatives’ approach to expanding free childcare, claiming that there was no strategy in place to ensure enough spaces were available.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that childcare should be considered “critical infrastructure” which was “vital for children’s opportunities and essential for a stable economy” as he set out his party’s plans.

The Conservatives, who announced a huge expansion of free childcare in 2023, have also said they will reform child benefit to allow more parents to access it.

i looks at what Labour and the Conservatives are promising on childcare:

What is Labour promising on childcare?

The Labour Party has pledged to open up 100,000 new childcare places by converting over 3,000 unused school classrooms into nurseries.

The party has pointed out that falling birth rates mean extra capacity is expected to become available in many existing primary schools which can be turned into on-site nurseries.

New nurseries will be focused in childcare “deserts”, where many parents struggle to get access to childcare places.

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “The evidence is clear: school-based nurseries deliver high-quality education which enables children to achieve and thrive when they at primary school.

“The 3,300 new nurseries we announce today will be key to delivering Labour’s mission for half a million more children to hit the early-learning goals by 2030, giving them the firm foundations from which to succeed.”

Labour has also said the additional spaces will help with the delivery of the Conservatives free childcare pledge announced in the 2023 Budget, which Labour has said it will maintain if the party wins power.

The party has also said it will provide free breakfast clubs in every primary school in England, which it claims will “drive up attendance” and help working parents, while also saving families around £400 a year per child.

The pledges have had a warm reaction from the sector with Sarah Ronan, director of the Early Education and Childcare Coalition (EECC) calling them “a first step towards the change that is needed”.

“The childcare crisis is not just about affordability – it’s also about availability and inequality of access. This policy would go some way to addressing that,” she said.

Ms Ronan added that if Labour won power it would also need to address staffing numbers, and that “underpinning its plan for reform must be a new workforce strategy that will attract more people into the sector and see early years professionals receive the pay, conditions and respect they deserve”.

How much the pledges will cost: Regarding the new nursery places, Labour has said the estimated cost per classroom will be around £40,000, and that they will convert 3,334 classrooms. This suggests the total cost of this pledge is £133m. The party has also stated that its plans to provide free breakfast clubs at every primary school will cost £365m.

How the pledges will be paid for: Labour has said the money for new nurseries will come from its plans to add VAT to private school fees, while its free breakfast clubs pledge will be paid for through closing loopholes around the non-dom tax status.

What are the Conservatives promising on childcare?

In 2023, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced what he hailed as “the biggest ever expansion of childcare” which would eventually offer 30 free hours for all parents from when maternity leave ended to when their child started school.

From April 2024, working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of free care, which will be extended to all children aged 9 months and older from September 2024.

The full package, of 30 hours of free childcare for every child aged between months and five years, will not become available until September 2025.

When he announced the plan, Mr Hunt said it was a package “worth on average £6,500 every year for a family with a two-year-old child using 35 hours of childcare every week”.

The Chancellor also set out an increase in funding paid to nurseries providing childcare, by £204m from September 2023 and rising to £288m this year, as well as incentive payments worth up to £1,200 to new childminders who enter the industry.

Despite concern that the sector did not have enough capacity for the expansion, Mr Hunt insisted that the plans were “on track” in March, but admitted he could not give an “absolute guarantee” that all children would get a place.

He also hinted in an interview with The Sunday Times last week that he would look to expand the childcare pledge by closing a loophole which prevents someone earning over £100,000 from claiming the 30 free hours but does not exclude a couple both earning £60,000.

Elsewhere, the Conservatives have announced that they will reform child benefits if they win the next election so that a household earning less than £120,000 would keep their full entitlement, up from £60,000 based on an individual’s income now.

How much the pledges will cost: The Chancellor said in 2023 that the total cost of all the childcare measures would be around £5.3bn a year by 2027-28. The child benefit changes will reportedly cost £1.3bn a year by 2029-30.

How the pledges will be paid for: The costs of the childcare pledge were accounted for in the 2023 Budget, when the Chancellor had additional headroom due to rising tax receipts and other factors. The new child benefit pledge will reportedly be paid for by clamping down on tax avoidance.

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer are on the campaign trail, and i‘s general election live blog is the go-to place for everything from party manifestos to candidate news and who could decide the election.

Sir Keir and other party leaders condemned Mr Sunak for departing from D-Day celebrations early, and the Prime Minister issued an apology. Meanwhile, i spoke to Jacob Rees-Mogg about the Tories’ chances at the election, as panic is setting in at Conservative HQ.

i also launched its Save Britain’s Rivers manifesto, urging parties to commit to five pledges to improve our waterways. Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has become the first to back the campaign.

Seven representatives from the main parties battled in a general election leaders’ debate, and Katy Balls has given her verdict on who won. To catch up on the coverage, read our debate live blog.

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