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Labour to promise free childcare for all two- to four-year-olds

By Rachel Lawler

Jeremy Corbyn childcare pledge
The Labour Party hopes to implement a “radical expansion” of the government’s current childcare offer if elected, in plans to be revealed at the leader’s speech at the party conference tomorrow.
Jeremy Corbyn will promise “free universal childcare”, subsidised additional hours and increased pay for practitioners in tomorrow’s speech.
Free childcare
The party is pledging to give “quality, genuinely free childcare” to all two-, three- and four-year-olds in England.
On top of this, the party promises to subsidise any additional hours purchased by parents with low-income families paying nothing and those on the highest incomes paying a maximum of £4 an hour.
Raising standards
The Labour Party has also set out plans to “dramatically raise standards of childcare” with a series of measures including:
  • increasing funding for providers to £7.35 an hour
  • gradually requiring all practitioners to have at least a level 3 qualification or be working towards a level 3 qualification
  • tripling the number of graduates in the sector
  • establishing a national pay scale for all early years staff
  • simplifying the current application process for parents
Corbyn is expected to say: “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.”
Sustainability concerns
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “We know how important childcare and early education are to ensuring that all children are given the best possible start in life, and that it's those children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who have the most to gain from access to quality early learning experiences. As such, Labour’s pledge to provide additional financial support to the lowest-income families is, in theory, a welcome policy. 
"Similarly, with early years providers having been overworked and underpaid for far too long, a plan to not just encourage but also financially support the development of a graduate-led workforce by delivering improved wages and a new national early years payscale is very positive in principle.
“That said, put together, Labour’s ambitious proposals – extending the so-called free entitlement and introducing subsidised care for all with seemingly no upper earning limit on eligibility, increasing funding rates to £7.35 per hour, and overhauling the childcare payment system – would be, to put mildly, incredibly costly. As such, as a sector that has all too often been on the end of improperly costed and inadequately funded pledges, many childcare providers will be understandably sceptical as to how all these proposals can collectively be delivered as outlined, even over an extended period of time
“The direction of these proposals is certainly the right one – additional support for parents, a greater emphasis on supporting and valuing the early years workforce, and a focus on raising and maintaining quality across the sector. But, as always, the devil in the in the detail and we would need to see a lot more detail on how these proposals have been individually costed to feel reassured that this plan is indeed sustainable – or even possible – in the long term.”
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