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Jeremy Corbyn accuses Cameron of breaking childcare pledge

Prime minister says at PMQs that tax relief on childcare promised in 2013 will be introduced in 2017

Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron face off in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA

Jeremy Corbyn has accused David Cameron of breaking a promise to deliver tax-free childcare and of making limited progress on a manifesto pledge to extend the number of hours of free childcare.

The prime minister was forced to admit there had been a delay in meeting the tax-free pledge but blamed the problem on a court case the government lost with some providers.

Cameron also sought to focus on a £6bn commitment to deliver a Tory manifesto pledge of 30 hours of free childcare to working parents of three- and four-year-olds.

However, Corbyn said the 30 hours were unavailable to a third of parents. And in a reference to the Tories’ general election “long-term economic plan”, Corbyn joked that the Treasury website described the tax-free pledge as a “long-term” plan.

The prime minister said the tax relief on childcare would be introduced in 2017 while the 30 hours would be fully implemented next year. He added: “I am delighted he is helping me to promote government policy. Of course when I became prime minister I think we only had 10 hours of childcare, and it has gone up to 12 and then to 15 and now to 30. These are all the things you can do if you have a strong economy with a sound plan.”

The tax-free childcare pledge was introduced in March 2013 when George Osborne promised in his budget speech “new tax-free childcare vouchers for working families – 20% off the first £6,000 of your childcare costs for each child – and increased childcare support for those low-income working families on universal credit.”

But Corbyn said the prime minister had gone back on his word, pointing to a National Audit Office report showing that one third of families who were promised 30 hours of free childcare would not receive it. “This is a broken promise,” Corbyn said as he pointed out that 41,000 three-year-olds would lose out as a result of insufficient funding.

The prime minister said the government would provide support for all children as the NAO report said the government had successfully implemented the entitlement to free childcare for three- and four-year-olds. “All of these things we are able to do because we have got a strong and sound economy,” he said, before mocking Corbyn’s appointment of the former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, as an adviser.

The prime minister joked: “He was the Greek finance minister who left his economy in ruins. That is Labour’s policy in two words: Acropolis Now.”

Corbyn said Cameron’s joke was not much use to children losing out on childcare as he highlighted the problem of over-sized classrooms. –Half a million primary school children are in classes with more than 31 pupils and 15,000 in classes with over 40. The prime minister countered that there were 453 fewer schools that were full or over capacity and 36,500 fewer pupils in overcrowded schools.

But Corbyn also warned of a teacher shortage, prompting 70% of headteachers to say they have to use agency staff. The Labour leader said: “We had this agency working situation in the NHS and also in education. Aren’t we moving into an era which we can term ‘agency Britain’?”

Cameron replied: “I think he has got to look at the facts rather than talk down people who are working so hard to teach children in our schools.”

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