edballsWorking parents of three and four-year-olds would see their free childcare entitlement increased to 25 hours a week if Labour were elected.

The announcement by Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, at the Labour Party Annual Conference in Brighton yesterday [23 Sept] has drawn widespread support from children's charities.

Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children, said: "Labour’s proposal for extending the free entitlement to childcare for three and four year olds to 25 hours a week, would be a major step forward, offering a helping hand to thousands of hard working families with young children.

"Though this policy would present a real challenge to the sector over how quickly it could implemented, particularly in terms of training the additional qualified staff needed, the development would not only enable parents to join the workforce and support them with their childcare arrangements but would also benefit many disadvantaged children by enhancing their exposure to high quality support in stimulating and fun settings."

Making work pay for families
Children of three and four currently receive 15 hours of free care but the Shadow Chancellor has proposed raising the bank levy by £800m per year to fund the two-thirds increase.

In announcing the policy, Mr Balls said: "Childcare is a vital part of our economic infrastructure that, alongside family support and flexible working, should give parents the choice to stay at home with their children when they are small and to balance work and family when they grow older...To make work pay for families, we must act now."

The announcement was the second major childcare policy unveiled at this week's Labour Party Conference, with Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg already pledging to provide 'wraparound care' for primary school children from 8am to 6pm every weekday.

'Exciting development for parents'
This move again drew praise from 4Children, with CEO Longfield describing it as an "exciting development for parents".

"While the childcare challenges of parents with very young children have rightly rocketed to the top of the political agenda, relatively little attention has been paid to the vast array of difficulties that before and after school childcare throws up for working parents," she said.

"Office hours and school days just don’t match and a guarantee of wrap around childcare would make a immeasurable difference for all those families who find themselves juggling up to three or four forms of childcare in order to work a standard 9-5 day as well as the increasing number of families who work shifts."

The Labour Party Conference continues today - for more updates follow @journalfhc & @ckeditor on Twitter