Parents in Liverpool would be given free childcare for all children over nine months under radical plans by the Women’s Equality party.
Tabitha Morton, the party’s candidate in the Liverpool City Region mayoral elections next month, wants to use the £30m of extra money available to the new mayor each year to help parents back into work.
Nationally, the cost of childcare is thought to average around £6,000 a year. But under proposals that Morton will lay out at Blackburne House in Liverpool on Tuesday, parents will get 15 hours free each week after the end of parental leave at nine months, paying just £1 for every additional hour.
In England, parents currently receive 15 hours free only after their child’s second birthday and if they are receiving benefits including tax credits and jobseeker’s allowance.
The WEP’s plans, which Morton insists are fully costed, would make Liverpool the first city in the UK to offer universal, affordable childcare for all children from the end of parental leave. The party – formed two years ago by Sandi Toksvig and Catherine Mayer – claim the idea would create at least 40,000 jobs in the Liverpool region and allow more parents to work.
Morton said: “This will change things so dramatically in Liverpool, we have got a quarter of children living in poverty and three out of four are in single parent families.
“My proposal is that the metro mayor has £900m over 30 years to spend, and we need to look at this differently: rather than building another bridge or road, we need to actually look at how we mobilise our economy. The way to do that is free childcare.”
Labour MP Steve Rotherham, the frontrunner to win the mayoral race, has suggested his priorities are affordable housing, transport and skills.
The WEP said it would fund the £100m plans through a combination of the Liverpool City Region single investment fund – £30m a year for the next 30 years (a total of £900m) to be used “to unlock the economic potential” of the region – pilot project funding from central government, local businesses and six local authorities. Party officials say the proposals would give the tens of thousands of Liverpool women who currently care for their children at home but would prefer to work, the chance to go into paid employment.
The WEP insists its research suggests prioritising childcare would generate more jobs and economic benefits than traditional pledges on infrastructure and transport.
“There is this constant battle between economic growth and social justice – they seem to be a trade-off between each other,” Morton told the Guardian.
“We think within the first five years this will have paid for itself. It makes sense on so many different levels – the businesses in the area will have a bigger talent pool to pick from. If we have supplied and provided quality childcare we also hope to change businesses’ attitudes.
“It works in other countries. In Sweden you see such a different attitude to parenting and flexible working.”
Responding to analysis by the Electoral Reform Society, which suggests more than 90% of the most powerful positions in the English mayoralties and their cabinets are likely to be held by white men, Morton said: “It is about having women on the ballot but it also about our policies. The WEP looks at everything through a gendered lens to make sure that there is equality, because it does benefit everyone longer term.”
Morton said that she would be happy for other parties to take on her plans and encouraged the government to use the proposed scheme as a model for the rest of the UK.