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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  66.  
    13:40: PMQs verdict New Statesman

    Over at the New Statesman, George Eaton judges David Cameron's "chutzpah" to have carried him over the line in this week's PMQs. "The session descended into one of the ugliest encounters yet between the two men," he writes, before notching up yet another defeat for Ed Miliband: "Most voters will notice Miliband's equivocation and the rhetorical exaggerations that Cameron provokes... the PM's ruthless form was testimony to his increasing confidence."

     
  67.  
    13:39: MoD... golf courses?

    Defence secretary Michael Fallon has raised eyebrows during his speech at the Institute of Government by revealing the Ministry of Defence owns 15 golf courses. After confirming his department needs to make more efficiency savings in the coming years, he suggested further cuts were essential. "How many cars and vehicles do we really need?" the Daily Mail quoted him as saying. "And does MoD really need to own 15 golf courses?"

    Michael Fallon
     
  68.  
    13:30: 'Weaponise the NHS'? The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Pressed over whether Ed Miliband said he wanted to "weaponise" the NHS, shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker says Labour will prioritise the health service because that, he says, is what the public wants.

     
  69.  
    13:28: Major incidents rules The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Asked about the guidance given to hospitals over when they call "major incidents", Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes tells Radio 4's World at One programme it seems "entirely sensible". Conservative minister Mark Harper says the document was issued by the NHS in West Midlands and ministers had nothing to do with it. He acknowledges there are "unprecedented pressures" on the NHS and says only a strong economy can deliver a sustainable NHS.

     
  70.  
    13:17: 'What is NHS England's involvement?' House of Commons Parliament

    Finally, Labour MP Clive Efford asks "what is NHS England's involvement?" in the guidance on major incidents. Jeremy Hunt says he is "quoting selectively" from the guidance. When a local health body makes a decision on a major incident, "it must make sure there isn't going to be a negative impact on the wider economy because patients must come first".

     
  71.  
    13:16: Conservatives reject 'war on Wales' charge Robin Brant Political Correspondent, BBC News

    In the post-PMQs briefing, the Conservatives say Ed Miliband's claim the PM was mounting a "war on Wales" was an "extraordinary comment to make". PM was "absolutely right" to highlight problems in Welsh NHS, they add.

     
  72.  
    13:13: 'Rely on professionals' House of Commons Parliament

    Conservative MP Stephen Mosley says ministers should "rely on local health professionals to make the best choices". Jeremy Hunt agrees. "We don't want an NHS where every single operational decision is taken from behind the health secretary's desk," he tells the House, claiming that this approach will keep politics out.

     
  73.  
    13:07: 'My duty to weaponise NHS' House of Commons Parliament

    Labour MP Barry Sheerman says "it is my duty as a member of the opposition to weaponise" the NHS.

    He argues that Labour needs to win the election and stop the government's "disgraceful policies".

    Jeremy Hunt replies that "there are too many on the Labour side who think exactly like that".

     
  74.  
    13:04: TV debates Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Pollster Ben Page of Ipsos Mori, interviewed on the Daily Politics, says the televised election debates are "almost certain" to happen. He says voters aren't particularly bothered, "to be honest", about the to-and-fro over their exact format which is getting Westminster types so worked up. But he accepts David Cameron is doing well in negotiating to ensure the debates that suit him best.

     
  75.  
    13:03: 'One of the first' House of Commons Parliament

    Labour's David Winnick says Walsall Manor Hospital was "one of the first to declare a major incident" over demand in its A&E department. The Walsall North MP calls on the health secretary not to "minimise" the problems.

     
  76.  
    13:02: Ammunition for Labour Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Norman Smith says the fact the NHS document at the centre of today's exchanges refers to local politics and the media will give Labour ammunition with which to maintain their claims that hospitals are being put under political pressure to avoid calling major incidents.

     
  77.  
    13:00: Breaking News Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    The former leader of Plaid Cymru has compared the Trident base on the Clyde to Auschwitz in an interview with the BBC. Lord Wigley's comments come the day after events across Europe to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camps.

    Asked about a report that the Trident base could be moved to Wales, Lord Wigley said: "No doubt there were many jobs provided in Auschwitz and places like that but that didn't justify their existence and neither does nuclear weapons justify having them in Pembrokeshire."He is currently Plaid Cymru's general election coordinator.

    (You can listen to the interview on BBC Radio 4's World at One, via the Live Coverage tab on this page.)

     
  78.  
    12:59: Women in politics Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    With a pic of New Labour's 'Blair babes' in the background, the Daily Politics is now looking at the issue of getting more women into Parliament. As Caroline Flint points out, Labour has more women MPs and ethnic minority MPs than all the other parties put together. But she adds: "There was positive discrimination going in favour of men in my party and in other parties for many, many years." David Willetts accepts the Conservatives "need to make more progress" - but says he hopes there will be many more Tory women in Parliament after the election.

    Daily Politics on women in politics
     
  79.  
    12:58: 'Not seen that way' House of Commons Parliament

    Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, says that Jeremy Hunt's argument that the decision to declare a major incident is purely operational "is not seen that way on the ground". Mr Hunt insists that the decision "must be taken locally".

     
  80.  
    @bbcnickrobinson Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor

    tweets: Real NHS story is not who said what about it but who will do what to strengthen an NHS under real pressure in future #pmqs

     
  81.  
    12:53: In Pictures: Prime Minister's Questions
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
     
  82.  
    12:54: Listening to the doctors Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    On the Daily Politics, Conservative ex-minister David Willetts is debating how to improve the NHS with shadow energy and climate change secretary, Caroline Flint. He says that medical advice often suggests raising standards of care means there should be fewer A&E departments - with the inevitable result that A&E gets politicised. She replies by saying that "on one level they may say that, but too often that is said out of the context" - and that doctors have to focus on prevention as well as cure.

     
  83.  
    12:53: Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Norman Smith says: "If anyone was in any doubt that the NHS was the top issue in the campaign currently, they just need to look at today's PMQs and following Emergency Question." Earlier this week a BBC/Populus poll suggested that people think the NHS is the most important issue to be covered by the news ahead of the election. The NHS came ahead of the economy, immigration, welfare and jobs.

     
  84.  
    12:50: 'Leaning from on high' House of Commons Parliament

    Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Health Select Committee, asks for reassurance that "the secretary of state will never lean on operation decision-making". Mr Hunt says "that kind of leaning from on high" happened under Labour rather than under the present government.

     
  85.  
    12:47: 'A new low' House of Commons Parliament

    Jeremy Hunt says that Labour's "desperate desire to weaponise the NHS" means the opposition has reached "a new low". He accuses Labour of "focusing not on patients but on politics".

     
  86.  
    12:45: 'Called into question' House of Commons Parliament

    Andy Burnham says the NHS guidance he has seen means "the claims that this is purely local is called into question right now".

     
  87.  
    12:45: Keeping the backbenchers happy James Landale Deputy Political Editor, BBC News

    James Landale says Conservative MPs will be "relatively happy" with the PM's performance because he has "muddied the waters" on the NHS. "It was interesting the prime minister didn't directly refer to Alan Milburn, the former Labour health secretary's criticisms - he chose not to get into that debate. Instead he focused on the phrase 'weaponise' and on Wales again and again. As long as the Tories feel they have something to say about the issue, they'll probably be content."

     
  88.  
    13:17: Pienaar's verdict BBC Radio 5 live

    John Pienaar tells 5Live there were no great revelations in today's PMQs. He said in the run up to the elections, the sessions will become more about political campaigning and bashing the other side rather than presenting options and alternatives. He expects more information about parties' policies will emerge through the media.

     
  89.  
    12:44: Andy Burnham urgent question House of Commons Parliament

    Andy Burnham says Mr Hunt's claim "does not appear to be entirely accurate". The shadow health secretary claims that "major incidents should be agreed with the director on call with NHS England".

     
  90.  
    12:41: 'Local issue' House of Commons Parliament

    MPs can use urgent questions to require a minister to make a statement to the House at short notice. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says: "We have been brought here to discuss a local operational issue" which, he claims, Labour is trying to "spin". He adds: "The decision to declare a major incident is taken locally."

     
  91.  
    12:39: Commemoration service House of Commons Parliament

    David Cameron says the special commemorative event will be held at St Paul's Cathedral on 13 March to mark the end of British combat operations in Afghanistan.

     
  92.  
    12:39: Urgent question on the NHS House of Commons Parliament

    PMQs ends and now shadow health secretary Andy Burnham puts an urgent question to the government. He asks Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to make a statement on what guidance has been issued by NHS England on declaring a major incident.

     
  93.  
    @robindbrant Robin Brant, BBC Political Correspondent

    tweets: .@David_Cameron reveals there will be a special service at St Pauls and parade in March to mark end of UK military role in Afghanis

     
  94.  
    @paulwaugh Paul Waugh, PoliticsHome editor

    tweets: Cameron in supremely confident mood. Now even getting gag out of his chat with Greek PM: "I asked him what his long term economic plan was"

     
  95.  
    12:38: Greece's new PM House of Commons Parliament

    Jeremy Corbyn wants to know if David Cameron's had time to congratulate the new Greek prime minister - and help Greece write off their debt. The PM says he has had the "privilege" of speaking to Alexis Tsipras, and adds: "I asked him what his long-term economic plan was." That gets a lot of laughter from the government benches.

     
  96.  
    @anntreneman Ann Treneman, political sketchwriter

    tweets: Dave's voice is going on strike I think. This makes me wonder if Dave's frog in his throat is labour supporting

     
  97.  
    12:33: Trident 'not moving'

    The Ministry of Defence releases a statement saying: "Today's Scottish Daily Mail inaccurately reports that Ministry of Defence officials are examining plans to move Britain's nuclear-armed submarines from Scotland to Wales. The MOD is fully committed to retaining the deterrent on the Clyde and indeed we are basing all our submarines there from 2020. We can be very clear the MOD is therefore not planning to move the nuclear deterrent from HM Naval Base Clyde to Wales, or anywhere else."

     
  98.  
    12:33: House of Commons Parliament

    Conservative MPs cheer the mention of the party's "long-term economic plan" catchphrase by Lancashire and Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw, who asks about support for coastal communities.

     
  99.  
    @ShippersUnbound Tim Shipman, Sunday Times political editor

    Tweets: In the House that felt like 4-2 to Cameron. On television I suspect it was 4-2 to Miliband. So I'm going 3-3. More hot air than light

     
  100.  
    12:29: Hinchingbrooke hospital House of Commons Parliament

    Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert raises the privately-run Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire. Mr Cameron says Labour is in confusion over the extent of private sector involvement in the NHS.

     

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