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Cradle to School: What are the political parties promising working parents?

Posted on 29 April 2015

Countdown to the General Election 2015 has begun.  As working parents we want to vote for the party that will provide the best opportunities for our children and support family life. Cutting through the spin to work out what each party is promising can be time consuming.  We’ve done the leg work for you summarizing where the main political parties stand on Childcare and Education.


The rising cost of childcare coupled with static wages continues to impact many families. It comes as no surprise then that politicians are courting working parents.  How do their policies stack up against the provision of childcare and cost of raising a child?

Provision of pre-school education

Currently, all three and four year olds and the most deprived 2 year olds are entitled to 15 hours each week of free education or childcare for 38 weeks of the year. Many working parents say that 15 hours is of limited help in supporting them to return to work after the birth of their child.  All parties say they plan to extend this provision.

How does each party propose to extend the existing provision?

Liberal Democrats will widen the entitlement to 2 year olds and infants of working parents aged between nine months and two years. Their long term ambition is to increase the 15 hour entitlement to 20 hours for this cohort.

Labour will increase the length of hours offered to 25 per week for 3 to 4 year olds of working parents. The number of childcare places at Sure Start centres will double.  Wrap-around childcare is guaranteed for primary school children of working parents from 08.00 to 18.00.

Conservatives will double entitled hours to 30 per week for 3 to 4 year olds where both parents work.

In Scotland the SNP has increased the guaranteed 16 hours for 3 to 4 year olds to 30 hours per week.

In Wales, Plaid Cymru promises full time education for all children from the age of 3.

The Green party says it will extend the current provision but does not specify qualifying criteria.

Similarly, UKIP promises plans to reduce the cost of childcare.

Supporting families with the cost of raising a child

The cost of raising a child has soared in recent years at the same time many families have lost their entitlement to child benefit. Currently many families of participating companies reduce the cost of childcare through the tax-free childcare voucher scheme.  A new tax-free childcare scheme has been proposed from autumn 2015. To find out more click on the Tax-Free Childcare tab above. 

From autumn 2015 all parents on the new Universal Tax Credit will be entitled to an 85% subsidy on childcare spending.      

What the other parties are saying about Universal Tax Credit

Labour will not cut tax credits but will pause and review the Universal Tax Credit Programme to ensure it is affordable and fit for purpose as will Plaid Cymru. The SNP will halt Universal Tax Credit and reinstate living allowance.  

For those families entitled to Child Benefit the Green party will increase the current entitlement to £40 per week for each child. Meanwhile the SNP opposes cuts to Child Benefit and tax credits.  UKIP will limit Child Benefit to the first two children only. 

Shared Parental Leave, flexible working and paternity

The emphasis in all parties’ policies is supporting both parents to work. The recently introduced Shared Parental Leave entitles both parents to share childcare in their child’s first year.  While this sounds great, the rules mean not all parents will be eligible.

What some parties are saying about Shared Parental Leave:

Labour will extend the length of paternity leave from 2 to 4 weeks and ensure more families can take up their entitlement by increasing the level of paternity pay from £140 to more than £260 per week. 

SNP plans to expand Shared Parental Leave with a  “use it or lose it” month for fathers to encourage them to take time off with young children. 

Education - Academies and Free schools

Schools currently come under the control of the local authority, with the exception of academies and new schools established by parents, also know as free schools.  The national inspection body OFSTED assesses the effectiveness of schools.  The majority of head teachers remain unconvinced by the competing education policies being offered by any of the political parties summarized below.

The political parties fall into one of two camps on free schools.:

Conservatives and UKIP plan to make more schools academies and deliver more free schools.

In contrast Labour, the Green and Plaid Cymru plan to end free schools, returning schools to local authority control. Labour will use the money currently spent on the Free Schools Programme to cap infant class sizes at 30 pupils or fewer. 


The Greens are the only party proposing to abolish OFSTED, SATS and league tables in favour of evaluation by parents, teachers and the local community. 

Labour aims to turn around underperforming schools by introducing Directors of School Standards to monitor the performance of local schools and support them to improve.

At present OFSTED is required to give 3 days notice to inspect schools approximately every four years.  Plaid Cymru proposes that OFSTED conduct,  “on the spot” inspections, without giving prior notice for underperforming schools.

UKIP will require OFSTED to inspect a school at any time if 25% of the parent or governing body raise a petition asking it to do so.

Want to compare other policies?

Check out this comparator that looks at how each parties manifesto promises will affect your daily life.