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Labour commits to keeping Tories' free childcare expansion plans

Labour has committed to keeping the government's free child expansion if it wins the general election - describing the Tories' suggestion otherwise as an "outright lie".

In a letter to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, shadow minister Bridget Phillipson said her party "will not be removing any entitlements offered to families now or those promised to them in the future".

"Your suggestion to the contrary is an outright lie - and the public will not believe a word of it," she wrote.

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Ms Phillipson's criticism of the scheme, which began a staggered rollout on Monday, had fuelled speculation that Labour might keep the free childcare hours set to come into force before the election, but ditch those due from 2025.

On Tuesday, Ms Keegan wrote to her opposite number pressuring her to clarify Labour's position, claiming parents had told her they were wary of taking jobs because of uncertainty over the future of the childcare expansion.

Childcare in the UK is among the most expensive in the world, with the issue expected to be a key battleground at the general election.

The free scheme came into effect on Monday 1 April, with working parents of two-year-olds now able to access 15 hours of government-funded childcare.

This will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September this year, before the full rollout of 30 hours a week to all eligible families a year later.

Ms Phillipson told the BBC's Newsnight programme at the end of March that Labour would not commit to the £4bn plan, after commissioning a review of childcare led by former senior Ofsted figure Sir David Bell last October.

Ms Keegan warned that a Labour victory at the general election could put the offer "at risk", as a result of the review.

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However a Labour spokesperson told Sky News: "Labour will not take away childcare entitlements - we will support childcare entitlements promised in September 2024 and after that too."

In her letter, Ms Phillipson said the review would allow Labour to deliver the entitlement the Tories had promised but "failed to plan for".

"Rather than playing politics, will you now guarantee, finally, that all the parents offered childcare will be able to get the hours you promised?" Ms Phillipson wrote.

The expansion of free care was announced in March last year but there have long been concerns about the sector's ability to absorb the increase in demand for places.

Government figures show the number of childcare providers in England fell from 59,400 in 2022 to 56,300 in 2023.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was unable to guarantee a childcare place to everyone that wants one.