Scottish Labour is launching its manifesto for the Holyrood election with a pledge to increase free childcare to 50 hours a week for every youngster.
Party leader Anas Sarwar said he wants to ensure the SNP’s delayed pledge for 1,140 hours of free childcare is delivered this year, and he would then increase it every year of the next Parliament.
Mr Sarwar said the policy would help tackle the “national scandal” of child poverty and boost the post-pandemic economic recovery by enabling more parents to return to work.
The expansion of free childcare would begin by targeting the most vulnerable one and two-year-olds, and then increase for other youngsters as capacity expands over the coming years.
The manifesto, being launched on Thursday morning, calls for a “flexible, all-age, all-year, wraparound, affordable early years service centred on the needs of the child”.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Mr Sarwar urged voters to back Scottish Labour on May 6 to elect MSPs focused on “solutions, not divisions”.
He said: “As we emerge from the collective trauma of Covid, we can’t afford to go back to the old arguments while our NHS loses funding, our children miss out on world-class education, businesses close and jobs go overseas.
“Child poverty is a national scandal, yet the SNP and the Tories are more interested on constitutional rows than delivering for the next generation.
“At this election, we can choose something different.
“Voting Scottish Labour will deliver a Parliament focused on solutions, not divisions.
Later this morning, I will be unveiling our National Recovery Plan.— Anas Sarwar (@AnasSarwar) April 22, 2021
It’s time to move on from the old politics - we have got to rebuild our nation together, not return to the divisions of the past.
That is exactly what we will do. Watch live at 11am - https://t.co/OJjZzdWiH6 pic.twitter.com/0Ioyml6ySt
“Our plans to expand childcare would lift families out of poverty, redress gender inequalities and fuel our economic recovery from Covid.
“Scotland deserves a better government, and it deserves a better opposition, and we can vote for it in May.”
Challenged about the timescale of delivering 50 hours per week, Mr Sarwar suggested it could take longer than one parliamentary term because of challenges including staff recruitment.
He argued that the government should not “stop” when it reaches its current target, and added: “We’ve got to make sure we have year-on-year increases in that incremental growth in childcare with that ambition of eventually getting to 50 hours a week.
“That requires infrastructure, that requires staffing, and we want to make sure we’re doing that robust work now.”
Minister for childcare and early years, Maree Todd, said: “It’s the SNP’s transformational childcare plans which have delivered for families the length and breadth of the country.
“And we want to go further, by building a year-round system of ‘wraparound’ childcare, which will provide care before and after school and ensure that those on the lowest incomes pay nothing.
📣"There's only one party who's pledging to keep people like me in jobs".— Scottish Labour (@ScottishLabour) April 22, 2021
🏗️TODAY: Our Manifesto launch will outline how we will make a jobs recovery, including a jobs guarantee for every young Scot, our national mission. 🌹#BothVotesLabour #SP21 pic.twitter.com/UhmUMoeH8t
“Childcare in Scotland has been completely transformed from the system the SNP inherited from Labour in 2007, and by August this year we’ll have completed the expansion of childcare provision to 1,140 hours.”
Commenting ahead of the launch, SNP depute leader Keith Brown accused Scottish Labour of having an “anti-democratic position” on another independence referendum.
He added: “Rather than letting the people of Scotland decide what kind of recovery they want to build after the pandemic, a vote for Labour means leaving the key decisions about Scotland’s future in the hands of Boris Johnson and the Tories.
“That means all the damage to jobs and the economy of Brexit, the obscene waste of money on more nuclear weapons and as well as more Tory attacks on the funding and powers of the Scottish Parliament.
“This is a crucial moment in our country’s history – and when the crisis of the pandemic has passed, the people of Scotland should have a right to decide if they want to choose a better future of independence to help drive the recovery. If Labour continue to sit on the fence, their terminal decline in Scotland will only continue.”