Ed Miliband vows to tackle 'childcare crunch'

Ed Miliband on a visit to Learning Ladders Nursery in south London Labour has pledged to extend free childcare for three and four-year-olds

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Parents in England face a "childcare crunch" as they struggle with soaring nursery costs, Ed Miliband has said.

The Labour leader also cited the closure of Sure Start centres - aimed at helping disadvantaged children - as evidence of broken coalition promises.

Labour has pledged to extend free childcare for three and four-year-olds from 15 hours at the moment to 25.

But education minister Liz Truss said costs were "stabilising" after "rising rapidly" under the last government.

Mr Miliband is attempting to keep up pressure on the government over what he says is a cost of living crisis.

Sure Start closures

On a visit to a nursery school, he said: "The Tories say they care about families but they have done nothing to help for three years while all the time adding to the stress and strain of family life.

"If it's bad for families, it's bad for Britain too. Parents who want to work should be able to do so."

Mr Miliband pointed to Ofsted figures suggesting there are 35,000 fewer childcare places in England since September 2009.

Start Quote

Schools do offer care from 8pm to 6pm for parents who need it”

End Quote Liz Truss Education minister

And he repeated Labour's pledge to extend free childcare for three and four-year-olds from 15 at the moment to 25 hours per week for working parents, to be funded by increased taxes on bank profits.

Mr Miliband told ITV's Daybreak programme that "banks are actually making very big profits and I think they can afford a bit more to help families".

According to the Office for National Statistics, the cost of nursery places has risen by 30% since 2010 - five times faster than pay.

The Family and Childcare Trust says the average bill for a part-time nursery place of 25 hours a week has increased to £107 over the same period.

Three out of 10 of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds have yet to take up a place on the government's new scheme, figures from the Department for Education show.

Cutting red tape

The Labour leader has also accused Prime Minister David Cameron of breaking a promise to preserve the network of Sure Start children's centres, brought in by the previous Labour government to support low income families.

Mr Miliband claimed that 576 Sure Start centres have closed down since 2010 as a result of public spending cuts.

In response, ministers said 45 centres had closed down as a result of decisions taken by local councils but new ones had opened, with a record amount of parents using them.

Ms Truss said Labour's claims were "just wrong" as there had been no real-terms increase in full daycare fees for the past two years while the opposition had ignored the 800,000 nursery places already provided by schools.

"Schools do offer care from 8pm to 6pm for parents who need it," she told Sky News.

But she acknowledged that many parents were finding it tough and the government was taking steps to increase the support available by making it easier for new childminders to enter the profession.

Plans to increase the number of children that nursery assistants could look after - proposed as a way of reducing costs for parents - were dropped earlier this year following opposition from the Lib Dems.

But the coalition has said it will pay for 20% of all families' childcare costs after 2015 - up to a maximum of £1,200 - and will also increase financial support for the parents of the most disadvantaged two-year olds.

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