POLITICS
25/09/2018 17:04 BST | Updated 26/09/2018 10:39 BST

Labour Plans Dramatic £4.8bn Expansion Of Free Childcare Policy

Means-testing for free childcare will be scrapped while "Sure Start plus for the 21st Century" is on the table

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with shadow early years Minister Tracy Brabin (right) during a visit to Little Learners Nursery in Watford to highlight the rising costs of childcare

A massive expansion of free childcare and “Sure Start plus for the 21st Century” will be central pillars of Labour’s offer to voters, Jeremy Corbyn will confirm. 

Under new £4.8bn plans from the party, 30 hours of free childcare will be available to all two, three and four-year-olds, and all means-testing will be scrapped. 

The poorest families will also be eligible for more free hours over and above the 30-hour threshold, while more well-off families needing extra childcare will be charged a maximum of £4-an-hour. 

In his speech to the Labour Party conference on Wednesday, Corbyn will say the “radical expansion and transformation” of early years provision will benefit more than a million children.

He will tell delegates the current system is “patchy” and “holding back too many parents and families”. 

“Universal free high quality childcare will benefit parents, families and children across our country,” he will say. 

“It is a vital and long overdue change that will transform people’s lives and meet the needs of a 21st century Britain for all.”

It comes as Tracy Brabin, the shadow early years minister, has pledged she will pioneer “Sure Start plus for the 21st Century”, with a ring-fenced £500m budget that will reverse cutbacks to Tony Blair’s flagship scheme since 2010. 

Labour will also aim to boost the quality of childcare, by insisting subsidised provision shifts to a graduate-led workforce – something the party believes will close the attainment gap between rich and poor children and drive up wages in the care sector. 

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during the Labour Party's annual conference at the Arena and Convention Centre (ACC), in Liverpool.

Corbyn is expected to add: “Opportunity matters most in the earliest years of life.

“It is a crucial time to open up children’s life chances. Driving up standards of childcare will make that vital difference for millions of our children.”

Tying the service together would be a national online childcare portal. 

As it stands, the government offers parents of three and four-year-olds 30 hours’ free childcare, and, depending on income, some parents with two-year-olds can access the same. 

Labour argues that the policy is under-funded, with one in 10 providers thought to be operating at a loss since the policy was extended by Theresa May in 2017.

Speaking at a fringe event in Liverpool hosted by the charity Action for Children, Brabin outlined further details of how Labour would revamp Sure Start. 

It is estimated that a staggering 1,250 of the children’s centres, championed by the late former minister Tessa Jowell, have closed since 2010. 

“Sadly, the situation we are in now is a dire one,” said Brabin. “What’s devastating about this is that we know these services actually work. It’s a national scandal that they have been decimated in this way.” 

The Local Government Association says a total of £1bn has been slashed from children’s services since 2010, meaning town hall bosses have been forced to shut down centres. 

Brabin says, under a Labour government, a new £500m budget will be dedicated to Sure Start and not left at the mercy of council finance chiefs.  

“It allows us to develop a minimum standard,” she said, adding the party plans to consult a series of early years experts on tech and ways to build resilience in youngsters.

“Services have been cut back so much that we will be almost starting from scratch. 

“It’s not going to be as simple as putting the kettle on and reopening the doors. 

“We will reinstate and refashion Sure Start centres for the 21st Century, build a Sure Start network, which was the jewel in the crown of the last Labour government, that will protect the most vulnerable and deliver social justice. 

“We are going to really drill down, with the help of experts and find out what ‘Sure Start Plus’ for the 21st Century will really look like.”