Here is the full text of Tony Blair's speech on childcare reforms.
A month ago I set out our aspiration to reform the welfare state to fit the needs of today's hard-working families.
And I said that one of the most pressing new challenges is to support parents as they bring up young families and as they balance home life and work.
Our approach is to give all families more help, whatever their choices, whether they work full time, part time or stay at home with their young children.
This morning I spent time talking to mums at Millfields School.
They told me about the struggle it can be to balance family and work and how helpful it was to the have the options provided now the school offers child-care before and after school.
This is real choice for real parents. Choice about whether they use nurseries, childminders or friends and family, or, as most families do, a combination of all of these to suit different times in their lives and the year.
We are providing real choice for parents and we will do more. Real choice, not false choice.
In 1997 we inherited a very low base of support for families and already we have made important progress.
Since then we have step by step expanded choice and support to all parents, we have made it easier for mothers to stay at home through expanded maternity provision.
The working tax credit enables half a million mothers to choose to stay at home.
We have given fathers new rights.
Support for child care costs is now being claimed by 350,000 families and being used to pay for nurseries, for child minders and for after-school clubs.
Today and over the next few weeks we will publish detailed, costed steps to expand the choices and services available to every parent and to ensure every child has the best possible start in life.
But as everyone in this hall knows, it is only through investment and expanding child-care services in a costed and worked through way that we can provide genuine choice.
Paying cash to all mothers to stay at home could be a £5 billion bill that is completely unaffordable.
The families of this country want real choices not false choices.
They want their Government to live in the real world not a fantasy world.
Today the Daycare Trust has brought together an excellent international panel of speakers.
We want to learn from your experience - what works on the ground and how we should move forward.
Why is this so important now.
The social foundations on which Beveridge's welfare state was built have been shaken.
Family and working patterns have changed dramatically:
Nearly two-thirds of women with children are now in paid work - up 6 percentage points in just 10 years.
A quarter of children are living in a lone parent family compared to just 8% in 1972.
The employment rate is now at its highest level ever - at 75% compared to 68% just 20 years ago.
And the jobs growth is cause for celebration - underpinning a thriving economy, tackling poverty at its root and welding together communities.
But a full-employment economy in tandem with the profound changes in family life poses a entirely new challenge for us as a government and a society.
One which puts childcare and work/life balance centre-stage.
This is mirrored in shifting public attitudes:
The number of people who now believe 'it is a man's job to earn the money and a woman's job to look after home and family' is down to 17% - almost half of what it was 15 years ago.
Today nearly two-thirds of people think that a working mother can establish a warm and secure relationship with children - 15 years ago under half thought so.
But surveys also show that people rightly put their families first and parents want more help to balance work and family pressures.
We recognised these changes when we came to power in 1997 and that's why we embarked on an ambitious programme of reform.
What we have done
And we are proud of our record.
There are signs of a culture change in the workplace - remember when taking time off from work for an emergency visit to the A&E department with your child -could mean your job was at risk?
Now everybody at work has the right to emergency leave in just such a family crisis.
Remember when fathers had no leave at all when their child was born?
Now they are entitled by right to two weeks paid leave.
Paid maternity leave has been increased from a stingy 14 weeks when we came to power to six months.
Nearly 1 million parents of young children are taking advantage of new rights to flexible working for the first time- so they can, for instance, drop off or pick up their kids from school.
We were once among the worst in Europe; now some of our provisions are better than many of our EU competitors.
Changes which are popular with parents- and which employers are realising leads to happier, less stressed and more motivated staff.
We have also provided record levels of financial support for families - an extra £10bn in real terms since 1997.
Child benefit up by 25% and child tax credits helping 9 in 10 families, both paid direct to the mother.
Hard cash to help parents whether they are at home or at work.
And the money is making a real difference - lifting 700,000 children out of poverty and improving the living standards of families with children by an average of £1,350 a year.
On childcare - we have started the biggest expansion of nursery provision since the Second World War with 1,200 Neighbourhood Nurseries.
Virtually all 3 and 4 year olds are now in part-time nursery education.
Over 500 local Sure Start programmes bringing together vital services.
More support for childminders.
From next year a new tax break worth up to £50 a week for parents using childcare organised through their employer.
Investment for all children and extra support for the disadvantaged.
And we are already reaping the benefits - in Sure Start areas falls in the number of children back on the child protection register, a rise in breast feeding, falls in maternal smoking and rises in children's attainment.
Why we need to go further
Despite this remarkable progress, we want to go further. And that means addressing difficult challenges ahead.
Flexible working is growing, but for some employees - in particular for the low paid - it is still out of reach.
There is also little choice about how mothers and fathers in a couple can take their paid leave.
In some parts of the country demand for childcare far outstrips supply - leaving too many parents with no provision at all.
And provision is often inflexible as anyone who has ever had to organise a working life around a two and half hour daily nursery place would know.
Affordable childcare is still out of the reach for some families - whether it is because they don't earn enough or because they live in a high cost area such as London.
Recruiting and retaining good quality staff in the childcare world as we expand services is a recurrent problem - but key to ensuring that children receive the best care.
Extended schools offering excellent out of school activities are growing but parents want to know that if the football or recorder club is cancelled that their children will be looked after and not sent home.
Principles for Reform
As we address these challenges and develop our strategy for supporting families and children it is important to be clear about our principles.
First, Choice and flexibility. Every family is different.
The kind of childcare, flexibility at work or paid leave you need depends on how old your children are, your working patterns, whether there are grandparents around to help and crucially personal preferences.
We want to support mothers and fathers to make their own choices about how to organise their family lives.
We want to develop integrated and personalised services through a diverse range of providers - the public, private and voluntary sectors.
Schools, nurseries, playgroups, childminders - all have a crucial role to play.
Supporting parents - what happens at home is far more important than the best nursery or the best teacher.
The patience, understanding, love and care given by parents are the best guarantee that children will flourish.
The more parents are involved with their children, the more it helps them learn the higher their aspirations and their self-esteem.
So supporting parents has to be an essential part of our approach.
Equality of opportunity for children - good quality early years education and care is the key to unlocking the cycle of poverty and reducing inequalities in educational achievement.
And we also have to ensure that childcare reaches all families - including children with a disability or special needs.
We know that the impact of good quality early years provision on children's attainment and social development lasts well into primary school.
Sharing costs between government and parents - parents and government share the costs of childcare to the tune of around £3 billion each.
But we want to do that in a way which ensures that new childcare places are sustainable and affordable in urban and rural areas, in London and the South East as well as other parts of the country.
Over time our strategy will address all these challenges. But we know that we cannot build universal childcare or better work-life provision overnight.
Scandinavian countries - represented at the conference today - built up their provision over many years.
That's why we are developing a long-term strategy with crucial milestones each step of the way towards universal affordable childcare for 3 to 14 year olds and a Sure Start Children's Children Centre in every community.
Today my particular focus will be childcare for parents with children at school.
School aged childcare in every area.
Schools are the most valuable asset we have in the community - trusted by parents and children.
I mentioned at the start of my speech that I had visited Millfields Community School in Hackney this morning.
It is open between 7.00am and 8.30pm providing a breakfast club, a play centre for all pupils and after school clubs.
This school is at the heart of its community, serving local people well beyond the normal school day.
And Millfields is no rare exception. Here too we have seen a great deal of progress over the last seven years.
A recent survey found over half of primary schools were providing a breakfast club, three-quarters offering music, ICT or arts clubs, and nearly all were providing sports after school.
Provision is even higher in secondary schools. Schools are doing this because it improves children's motivation and engagement.
Life is a struggle for hard working families.
I want to offer mums and dads more choice and flexibility with childcare to help them with their busy lives - parents at work and parents at home - and give children the best possible start in life.
I want an end to latch key kids as we move from the traditional welfare state to an opportunity society that helps families with the daily problems they face.
I can announce today that over the next Parliament, every parent with children in primary school will be offered the guarantee of affordable school based childcare from 8 to 6, from breakfast clubs in the morning to after school clubs in the evening - and not just during term time but all the year round.
In reality we expect at least half of all parents to enjoy this service well before then.
This is not about children being abandoned in schools for ten hours a day, all year round.
It's about providing a service that engages children, helping them to flourish through sports, play, music while meeting the needs of working parents.
It could be used throughout the week or for just one or two afternoons when needed.
It could be in your local primary school, or in a neighbouring one, or on a different site provided in partnership with voluntary and private sector providers including local childminders, but with a guarantee that children will be safely transported there.
A service where parents who choose to use childcare pay for it - but where tax credits support those on lower incomes.
For children aged 11-14 we will ensure that by 2008, a third of secondary schools will be extended schools open from 8-6pm offering a range of exciting activities to children both in the school and in the surrounding area.
A crucial milestone towards a universal offer by the end of a third term - when we expect all children aged 11-14 to be able to engage in a full range of these activities after school and in the holidays.
We will legislate at the first opportunity in a new Parliament to give Local Authorities a new duty to ensure the availability of sufficient childcare, underpinning our guarantee.
And they have a good track record - we gave them a statutory duty to provide nursery education for 3 and 4 year-olds and they delivered ahead of schedule - and through a range of providers -with a large proportion in the private and voluntary sector.
We want to help schools achieve this major cultural change through financial incentives and support for equipment and training, so that schools come to see this as core part of what they do.
We will continue working closely with unions representing the majority of school staff, as we have been doing for the past 2 years over workforce remodeling, to ensure we understand their concerns.
And in the early part of next year Charles Clarke will publish an Extended Schools Prospectus - laying out our vision for schools of the future.
The overall strategy
Our overall childcare and work-life balance strategy will follow at the time of the Pre-Budget Report and beyond in the run up to the Manifesto. It will include:
Improvements in work-life balance for families - Many mothers want to stay at home when their children are very young, especially with young babies and over time we want to support them to be able to make that choice.
But fathers increasingly want to play a hands on role at home.
Because my children vary so widely in age, I'm perhaps more aware than most of the changes that have taken place.
When I was first a much younger father, it was unusual to see a dad pushing a buggy, picking up children from school, taking the children on the tube or bus.
Now it is a much more common sight. And that's tremendous.
For research shows that fathers who are involved with their children in the early weeks are more likely to stay involved with positive outcomes for children.
We have promised that we will not make changes to the new rights for working parents before 2006.
It makes sense to give new measures time to bed down.
But over the longer term, we want to extend paid leave for parents and give more choice to mothers and fathers about who uses that leave so that families can choose what's best for them.
But we want and will do this in a way which minimizes burdens on employers.
Greater rights for parents, for example, will be matched by more responsibilities for parents to tell their employers about when they intend to go back to work.
Flexible working patterns are often the answer to the time and childcare squeeze that many families are facing.
We will look at how we can support parents to have more choices about their hours of work.
We will also work with employers to spread best practice on flexible working to all sectors of the workforce.
Early next year Patricia Hewitt will set out their detailed proposals for the next steps on work-life balance.
A Children's Centre in each community
We want the benefits of Sure Start to be felt nationwide through creating a Children's Centre in every community - but with more intensive services in poorer areas reflecting local need.
Sure Start Children's Centres will offer activities for children, information for parents, training and support for childcare workers including childminders, a base for midwives, health visitors, speech and language therapists to work from.
Many will offer much more - toy libraries, play groups to provide support for parents and grandparents caring at home.
This is about valuing children and helping parents - a place in every community where children can flourish.
By 2008 there will be 2,500 children's centres nationwide - significant steps towards a universal offer by 2010.
Some children's centres will develop out of existing provision - nursery schools, family centres and also primary schools.
This is a great new opportunity for primary schools to develop their under five provision in a wholly more ambitious and systematic way than before.
Affordable childcare for 3 and 4 year olds
Our vision is to create a universal affordable childcare for parents of 3 and 4 year olds.
Many of the best schools and nurseries are doing this already - providing integrated high-quality and safe education and care for the whole and not just part of the day.
Other parents prefer to use childminders to look after their child in a home environment.
And because we realise that working days no longer fit regular patterns, we will enable parents to use their two and a half hours a day free entitlement much more flexibly.
We also want to ensure that childcare is sustainable and affordable in high cost areas such as London.
When we came to power we inherited one of worst set of childcare and family friendly provisions in Europe and one of the worst records on child poverty in the industrialised world.
We have a lot more to do but we are turning that round - making a real and sustained difference to the lives of millions of children and parents.
But we need to go further and faster.
Those of you who are here today have already been part of a childcare revolution that followed the National Childcare Strategy in 1998.
But we all know that the years ahead also require more change.
Together we need to build a childcare system that meets the needs of today's family life, that is secure enough to fulfil children's opportunities, that is robust enough to stand the test of time and helps build a fairer, better society.
For families - parents and children - need more help, more support than ever.
But it must be support built around their increasingly varied needs and ambitions. Help which enables them to make the best choices for their families in a more and more complex world.
We must, above all, ensure the best possible start in life for all our children who are our strength and our future.