Free child care expanded
Free child care expanded

Labour has announced a radical expansion and transformation of free universal childcare benefiting more than a million children and their families.

Under Labour’s plans, 30 hours of high quality, genuinely free childcare will be available to all 2, 3 and 4 year olds, with no means testing.

Labour plans to provide additional subsidised hours of childcare on top of the free 30 hour allowance.

These additional hours will be free for those on the lowest incomes and, for those on the highest incomes, they will be offered for no more than £4 per hour.

We will also improve children’s life chances by dramatically raising standards of childcare.

Labour will achieve this by introducing a two-term plan to shift to a graduate-led workforce. This will improve the pay and skill levels of childcare staff, drive up standards to improve our children’s life chances and close the attainment gap, which is locking in inequality while children are still infants.

We will also simplify the childcare system for parents, by launching a national childcare access portal online. This improved, simplified system will replace the current fragmented and often confusing hotchpotch of vouchers and credits.

The Government is failing to deliver on even its limited childcare pledge, which is “free in name only”. Currently, only 40 per cent of two-year-olds qualify for childcare and many working parents with three and four-year-old children are not getting the childcare they were promised by the Conservatives at the last election because of the complexity of the rules.

Meanwhile, Tory cuts have also led to the loss of over 1,240 Sure Start centres.

Conservative under-funding of its far more limited childcare commitment is hurting children, families, workers and childcare providers. One in ten providers are now operating at a loss following the introduction of the government’s “free in name only” childcare policy and one quarter are no longer profitable. These growing financial pressures are stretching providers to breaking point, reducing standards and putting additional strain on already relatively low paid staff.

According to a government survey, half of families are forced to pay for extras.

  • Early years education is vital to closing attainment gaps and stopping disadvantaged children falling behind[1]
  • The attainment gap has already emerged before a child goes to school, and simply increases from there.[2]
  • The Education Policy Institute found that an attainment gap of 4.4 months has already emerged in the early years, leaving many students starting school behind, and the data shows that they do not catch up, with the attainment gap doubling by the end of primary school and doubling again by the end of secondary;
  • The attainment gap facing the lowest attaining children rose last year for the first time since 2013.[3]

What Labour will do

  • Extend current commitments on free hours for all 3-4 year olds, not just those whose parents are in work – benefiting over half a million additional 3 and 4 year olds on top of the 390,000 who qualify currently.[4]
  • Extend 15 free hours to all 2 year olds.[5]
  • Extend 2 year old entitlement to 30 free hours by the end of the parliament.[6]
  • Phase in subsidised provision on top of free-hour entitlements, to ensure that everyone has access to affordable childcare, no matter their working pattern.
  • Putting an additional £4.8bn into early years provision, to ensure that offering free hours is affordable for providers. The Government has said that their own funding formula will “pay providers an average funding rate of at least £4 per hour.”[7] We would increase funding to £7.35 per hour of contact time by the end of the roll out.
  • Transition with a two-term strategy to a fully-qualified, graduate-led workforce:
  • Gradually require all staff to be qualified to level 3 or working towards a level 3 qualification, including offering routes for those already working in the sector to attain these qualifications on the job
  • Increasing the proportion of staff with qualifications level 4 and above from 20% for 45%
  • Increase the graduate workforce three-fold, so that graduate staff can spend 80 per cent of their time in contact with children and 20 per cent supervising other staff
  • Require one SENCO per 100 children, which would mean a caseload of around five children per SENCO
  • Increasing the ratio of staff to children by recruiting almost 150,000 additional staff over seven years:
  • Currently there around 286,500 full time equivalent early years workers; in order to accommodate both increased demand and higher staff to child ratios this would increase to over 430,000 staff members.
  • Establishing a national pay scale for all early years staff, driving up the pay and quality of early-years educators:
  • With the early years workforce 98% female and 85% earning around the National Living Wage, the beneficiaries of the new payscale will overwhelmingly be low paid women



Qualification level

DfE Provider Survey 2016, hourly rate Hourly rate under new pay scale
 Level 1                                      £7.20                                    £10.00
 Level 2                                      £7.20                                    £10.00
 Level 3                                      £8.10                                    £11.25
 Level 4                                      £9.30                                    £12.92
 Level 5                                      £9.50                                    £13.19
 Level 6                                    £10.40                                    £14.44
 Level 7                                    £10.40                                    £14.44


  • Create a single simplified system with a national online childcare portal, under which:
    • Parents will choose a provider, claim free hours, and make payments for any subsidised additional hours by setting up a simple, online account
    • The full cost of free childcare, the subsidized hourly rates paid by parents, and the subsidy itself will be paid directly by government to providers.
    • The subsidised hourly rate for childcare beyond the free hours will vary with income, ranging between costing nothing for families whose incomes is under £16,200 and £4 per hour for families with incomes over £66,000. Subsidised rates are based on those recommended by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Family and Childcare Trust

[1] See eg Patricia Apps, Silvia Mendolia, and Ian Walker, The impact of pre-school on adolescents’ outcomes: Evidence from a recent English cohort, (2003), Economics of Education Review 183-199; Department for Education and Skills, The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education Project, The Final Report: Effective Pre-School Education (2004); See also Institute for Public Policy Research, Early Developments: Bridging the Gap Between Evidence and Policy in Early Years Education (2013), p14

[2] See eg Education Endowment Foundation, The Attainment Gap: 2017, p2; Education Policy Institute, Closing the Gap? Trends in Educational Attainment and Disadvantage (2017), p11

[3] Department for Education, Early years foundation stage profile results in England, 2017,, p6

[4] Based on ONS population estimates for 2020 when policy rolls out

[5] Based on 60 per cent of ONS population estimates for 2020.

[6] Based on ONS population estimates for 202

[7] Department for Education, Early years funding: Changes to funding for three- and four-year olds, Government consultation response (2016),  p17, [32]


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