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Tuesday 23rd September 2014
Max 19°C | Min 12°C

Liberal Democrats Promise More Free Childcare

Wednesday, 3rd September 2014 16:13

All two-year-olds in England will get free childcare if the Liberal Democrats win the next election, the party has announced.

Married tax allowance would be scraped to pay for the bulk of the scheme, which is at the centre of a "pre-manifesto" of around 300 policies entitled Stronger Economy, Fairer Society.

The Lib Dems would roll out the 15 hours of free childcare each week - currently given to two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds - to all two-year-olds.

The proposal, which would cost £800m, would be implemented by 2020.

All three and four-year-old are already entitled to 15 hours' free childcare each week.

However, doing away with the married couples' tax allowances could be a major hurdle to any new coalition with the Conservatives, who forced through the measure this Parliament.

Worth up to £200 a year from next April, the allowance will be available where one spouse does not work.

But a senior Lib Dem described it as "a penalty on unmarried couples", including widows and abandoned wives.

Free childcare for all children between nine and 24 months is a longer term aim, said the Liberal Democrats.

That benefit would be for families where both parents work, or where one works in a single-parent family.

The party says it would also want to eventually increase the childcare funding from 15 to 20 hours.

Funding for these longer-term proposals would cost £2bn and the party source admitted it was not yet clear where the money would come from.

Liberal Democrat business minister Jo Swinson said: "Extending free early-years education to all two-year-olds will benefit children and reduce childcare costs for working parents.

"It builds on our record in Government where we have expanded free early-years education for every three and four-year-old and provided it for the first time to two-year-olds from the most hard-pressed families."

But Labour claimed the Lib Dems could not be trusted to come good on the pledge.

Children's spokeswoman Lucy Powell said: "There's no point the Lib Dems making more promises when people remember only too well the promises Nick Clegg and his party have already broken.

"When it comes to family policy, the Lib Dems' record is trebling tuition fees, 628 fewer Sure Start children's centres and, by 2015, taking away up to £15bn in support for children and families.

"Labour's plan for 25 hours free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds goes beyond the Lib Dems' bogus promises."