To the point - Getting mums on side

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Last week marked the beginning of party conference season. All the parties know that they have to speak to and for women to stand a chance of winning in 2015. This means that childcare will increasingly feature as we head towards the election.

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The Tories have already set out their stall: the new Tax-Free Childcare Voucher (that isn't tax free) is their answer to the challenge of high childcare costs. We can safely assume that the £250m for families in Universal Credit that was announced alongside the voucher was a concession to the Lib Dems and would not have featured had the Tories been in Government on their own. While the new voucher may in part have been intended to win back those who had lost child benefit, in many ways it backfired. Stay-at-home mums were furious about being excluded and there was widespread disagreement with the decision to include some of the richest families.

The Lib Dems have been doing well opposing from within the coalition. Quashing proposals to loosen ratios in nurseries and childminders was a notable and popular victory for Nick Clegg. Clearly, if they had their way, the Lib Dems would focus more resources on lower income families and we can also assume that they would be more likely to favour direct funding to providers than the Tories. But what their actual policy would look like is unclear.

There is still no hint of what Labour would do if it were to win in 2015. The party is usually associated with Scandinavian style, free universal childcare but there is no money to go that far, especially not for the youngest.

It is exciting times for childcare to be at the heart of politics and the dividing lines are starting to come clear. The Tories would target more support at better off families and would channel funding through parents. Labour and the Lib Dems would prioritise low and middle income families and look more likely to favour greater funding to providers. But whichever party can convince mums that it is on their side is likely to find itself ahead.

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