Gordon Brown attacks Tory nursery 'top-up fee plans'
Gordon Brown: "Our Labour Party is the greatest force for fairness"
Gordon Brown has attacked the Tories over reports they plan to introduce "top-up fees" for nurseries in England.
The prime minister said to demand more money from parents at the same time as raising the inheritance tax threshold for the rich was "simply not fair".
He raised the issue while launching Labour's "green manifesto" in London.
The Conservatives accused Mr Brown of hypocrisy, saying nurseries were closing due to Labour underfunding the weekly entitlement to free childcare.
Representatives of non-state sector nurseries have backed the Conservatives' argument and say many will go out of business if current funding arrangements continue.
The row arose after the Observer newspaper reported it had seen a letter from shadow ministers assuring nursery providers that they would be allowed to charge parents of three or four-year-olds supplementary fees - at least temporarily.
This is another hypocritical attack from Gordon Brown - hundreds of nurseries are closing, 900 over the last year alone
Mr Brown spoke out in front of party members at Westminster Academy, west London.
"The very reason we created Sure Start, the very reason we back free nursery places, the very reason we have fought so hard to let hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty is because it is unfair for a child's birth to be its destiny, unfair that the wealth of your parents should determine the end of your story," he said.
"Do you know what makes me angriest?
"It's that they're mounting this attack on children's rights, not just nursery schools, but Sure Start centres, at exactly the same time as they're proposing a massive tax cut to the 3,000 richest families worth £200,000 each across the country.
"To give the richest estates money while demanding money from parents for their nursery schooling is simply not fair."
Under Labour, parents are entitled to 12.5 hours per week of free childcare for three and four-year-olds for 38 weeks of the year.
That is due to increase to 15 hours in September.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of childcare charity the Daycare Trust, told the Observer: "Any attack on free entitlement will be a huge blow to parents throughout the country who feel crippled by the cost of childcare."
She urged politicians to assure parents that free care will be protected.
However, critics say the sector is already facing a funding crisis.
The Conservatives insist the government has not provided enough funding to meet the costs of the entitlement.
A spokesman said: "This is another hypocritical attack from Gordon Brown. We support the principle of free nursery care and made that clear in our manifesto.
"The alternative [to allowing nurseries to charge top-up fees] is what's happening now - hundreds of nurseries are closing, 900 over the last year alone."
Anne-Marie True, representing private, independent and voluntary childcare providers for the Save Our Nurseries campaign, said government funding often only covered half of a centre's costs in most cases.
Dr Martin Bradley, UK chairman of the Montessori Schools Association, said nurseries usually made up this shortfall by charging extra to parents who used more than their free entitlement.
"They might survive in middle-class areas but it's the likely removal of childcare in less-affluent areas we are concerned about," Dr Bradley added.
A new funding formula aimed at helping to address the concerns of private, voluntary and independent sector nurseries - who care for 55% of children - was set to be introduced this month.
But it was put back a year after state-run nurseries warned it could divert funds away from them, leaving them facing budget cuts or closure.
'Fight to win'
Mr Brown told activists that only a Labour government could deliver fairness for all.
"If you believe in fairness you need to fight for it," he said.
"Get out and fight and fight and fight again, not for our party's future but fight for our country's future.
"Fairness is in our DNA, fairness is in the British people's DNA. We are fighting an election for the British people. Let's fight it and let's win it."
Launching the manifesto, entitled A Green Future Fair For All, Mr Brown said all pensioners over 75 on pension credits would get a further £100 off their energy bills on top of their winter fuel allowance.
The manifesto also pledges to create hundreds of thousands of new green jobs in a "high-tech, low-carbon" economy.
Mr Brown also highlighted his plans for referendums on electoral reform for the House of Commons and the creation of an elected House of Lords - measures he said the Tories opposed.
He also said the Conservatives were not the "party of change" if they would not abolish hereditary peers and did not accept the ban on foxhunting.
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