To the Point: Promises, promises

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All three political party conferences reflected how priority is being given to children and families. But who has the most to offer?

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With some relief, I have made it to the end of party conference season. Living standards was the central theme at all three. In that spirit, there were election giveaways for children and families from all three parties. So who offered what?

We started with the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg's offer to families was free school meals for all children in reception, Year 1 and Year 2 rather than the current means-tested system. A free lunch will save parents around £400 a year. This will help a bit with the cost of living but the policy is more strongly motivated by evidence from a pilot showing that providing a free lunch to all children helps reduce the attainment gap between better off children and those who are least well off.

Labour committed to tax the banks by another £800m to extend the free entitlement for threeand four-year-olds to 25 hours for working parents. It also proposed a guarantee of wraparound care for primary school children from 8am to 6pm. Once again, the intention was to help with the cost of living by providing more free hours of childcare. The policy is also strongly motivated by getting more mums out to work. But children would arguably benefit more if the money had gone to providing free hours for more two-year-olds.

Finally, on to the Conservatives. The Tories had already proposed tax-free childcare so there were no further announcements on that front. But they did deliver on a long-standing promise to introduce a married tax allowance. As recognition of marriage in the tax system, the proposal is limited. The vast majority of married couples won't meet the eligibility criteria and it only offers families who qualify an extra £3.85 a week.

So if the election was tomorrow and you only voted on issues relating to families and children, you could argue that Labour would have the most to offer. But no doubt there'll be more giveaways. And in the end, we care about other things too.

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