Labour announce new plans for childcare

Extended paternity leave and invigoration of Sure Start centres will allow more flexibility for families

Labour have announced today that they plan to extend paternity leave by two weeks, as part of plans to allow more flexibility for working families. As well as allowing new fathers four weeks of leave, a future Labour government would raise paternity pay to be in line with the minimum wage – at least £260 a week.

Ed Miliband says that the £150m plans would be paid for by a fall in the cost of tax credits as families got more free childcare.

Labour says that only about 55 per cent of new fathers take the current two weeks’ leave they are offered, because financial pressures send them back to work.

Speaking on the Today show this morning, shadow Work and Pensions secretary Rachel Reeves pointed out that  many of the objections raised to the new plans – that they are ‘bad for business’, that they will cost small companies too much – have also been used to object to maternity leave in the past.

Miliband will argue today that with more women in work and more fathers wanting to play a bigger role in parenting, the current system of leave and payment is outdated.

The move coincides with a promise by Labour to double the number of childcare places available at Sure Start centres, providing childcare for more than 118,000 children. Labour claims that since 2010, hundreds of the centres have been forced to close due to cuts in local authority funding.

Shadow Education secretary Tristram Hunt said yesterday that a Labour government would restore a statutory obligation removed by the coalition, which means those centres still running would have to provide access to childcare:

“It is a scandal that these brilliant community assets are being mothballed or even closed at a time when parents are crying out for decent childcare in their communities. 

“We will not succeed as country unless we ensure every child has a decent start in life.

“We will not succeed as a country if parents can’t get to work because they can’t get the childcare they need.”

The Tories say that these proposals are ill-thought through and will cost the taxpayer money. They insist that there have only been 45 Sure Start closures during their parliament, saying that many centres have moved premises or merged with other branches.

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