General election: Labour unveil £1bn Sure Start plan as Tories pledge 50 million more GP slots

Jon Craig, chief political correspondent

Labour are unveiling plans for 1,000 new Sure Start centres and more free child care while the Conservatives are promising to create 50 million more GP appointments every year.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner is joining Jeremy Corbyn to announce a Labour pledge to spend £1bn on the new Sure Start centres - which offer support to parents of young children in disadvantaged areas - and expand free childcare to 30 hours a week for all two, three and four-year-olds.

At a Labour Party rally in Manchester this week, Ms Rayner - now a 39-year-old grandmother - spoke with passion about her own disadvantaged upbringing and how going to a Sure Start centre helped her as a 16-year-old mother.

She said: "A Sure Start centre made me a better mum. It taught me how important it was to sit with my child and to give them cuddles and to read to them.

"You gave me a gift - to be a better mum than my mum had the ability to be, and you changed the life of my children."

Now, launching Labour's proposals, she added: "Investment in the early years can transform the lives of children and their families across this country, just as the last Labour government transformed mine.

"The Tories have slashed funding for Sure Start, leading to a loss of 1,000 centres, while their so-called free childcare offer locks out those families most in need of support."

Mr Corbyn added: "The Conservatives are failing a whole generation of children. Labour will deliver the real change Britain needs.

"Parents are struggling to afford the childcare support they need, while many children are going hungry and growing up homeless."

Labour claims that under its plans the average parent of a two-year-old not currently eligible for childcare support would save over £5,000 a year.

Parents with children aged two to four who are currently only eligible for 15 hours would save over £2,500 a year, according to the party.

It would benefit over 880,000 three and four-year-olds and over 500,000 two-years-olds by the end of the next parliament, Labour says.

But responding for the Tories, Nick Gibb, early years minister in the department for education, said: "Giving children the best start in life is vital.

"That's why we are investing record amounts in high-quality childcare and we have seen the quality of childcare improve with 95% of childcare now rated good or outstanding.

"Labour's plans to abolish Ofsted would leave these centres without anyone properly checking your children are safe."

The Conservatives are countering Labour's childcare and Sure Start pledges with a claim that they will boost GP appointments by 50 million, a 15% increase on the current figure of over 300 million.

After Boris Johnson announced an NHS visa for overseas recruits, the Tories are now promising to invest £2.5bn over four years in 6,000 more doctors and 6,000 more nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists - and introduce more online booking.

Ministers say the investment will increase check-ups and vaccinations and improve treatment of diabetes, obesity, mental health, cancer, heart disease and strokes.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "I know that it is too often difficult to book an appointment with a GP.

"We all know the feeling of ringing a GP surgery first thing in the morning, holding on to get an appointment.

"We recognise our GPs are under increasing pressure, so we will put record funding into our GP surgeries, and to help everyone get the care they need."

But Labour's shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, responded: "You can't trust the Tories with our NHS.

"They always make election promises which they fail to deliver on. Tory ministers promised us 5,000 extra GPs but in fact we have lost 1,600 GPs under the Tories.

"After years of starving the NHS of cash, it's got harder and harder to get a GP appointment under the Tories."

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Liberal Democrat proposals offer working parents 35 hours of free childcare a week when their baby reaches nine months.

Party leader Jo Swinson, who will launch the policy at a rally in Battersea on Saturday, said the plans would close the gap between the end of paid parental leave and the start of free childcare provision.

The Lib Dems have also pledged to provide every child aged two to four with 35 hours of free childcare for 48 weeks of the year.

This would be extended to children aged between nine and 24 months where their parents are in work.

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