Nicola Sturgeon is to lay out plans for free early years education to be extended to children aged 1 and 2 and for "wraparound" childcare that would be available all year round.
The first minister will announce that an SNP government, if elected on 6 May, would extend wraparound childcare – covering the periods before and after the school day – throughout the year. Those on the lowest incomes would pay nothing.
The commitment on expanding free early years provision has been criticised by other political parties, who say that the SNP has not yet delivered on its previous flagship policy on early years hours.
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Ms Sturgeon is due to say at an event in Glasgow today: “The last year has been extraordinarily tough on families, and as we build a sustainable recovery from Covid-19, we need to do everything we can to support them.
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“In government, the SNP has been investing massively in the next generation – from the Baby Box to the rollout of free school meals or our flagship Scottish Child Payment – and, in fact, the biggest capital investment made in the last term was in our massive expansion of childcare provision.
“Despite the logistical challenges thrown up over the last year, I am pleased that we will complete the expansion of free, high-quality childcare to 1,140 hours by August of this year.”
This was a reference to a longstanding government policy to nearly double free childcare hours – from the previous 600 hours a year – for all children aged 3 and 4 and some aged 2, which was delayed by a year as a result of the Covid pandemic.
Ms Sturgeon added: “But that is not the limit of our ambitions. We will build a year-round system of wraparound childcare, which will provide care before and after school. We’ll ensure that those on the lowest incomes pay nothing, with others making a fair and affordable contribution.
“For many, this will make the difference between not being able to afford to work because of high childcare costs and being able to work or work longer, raising family incomes as a result.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP have taken their eye off the ball as families who voted based on the SNP’s childcare pledges last time around may have seven-year-olds by now, and are still waiting.
“Scottish Labour supports a flexible, all-age, all-year, wraparound affordable early years service centred on the needs of the child. We want to see a year-on-year expansion of the hours available, with the eventual ambition of offering 50 hours a week for every child.
“Any expansion of childcare provision needs a plan to expand and value the highly skilled sector workforce, the majority of whom are women.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart said: "The SNP delayed the rollout of the existing plan. Their inflexible approach has made it difficult for many parents to take up the offer.
"The small number of two-year-olds taking up their places shows that the SNP does not meet the needs of children or parents.
"In our manifesto, Scottish Liberal Democrats will set out plans that will offer greater flexibility and expand provision to suit the needs of parents."