London, Sept 21 : Announcing a new wave of "social mobility" with the objective to support the working women, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has decided to open thousands of nurseries to take care of two year olds. At present, three and four-year-olds receive up to 15 hours of free-child-care a week.
The one-billion-pounds scheme, for which pilot projects will be announced imminently, could eventually include up to 600,000 children a year. Ministers have already announced a smaller scheme aimed at the parents of 20,000 two-year-olds from the lowest-income families, reported The Sunday Telegraph.
The Prime Minister unveiled the plan during an interview with the paper on the eve of the Labour Party conference in Manchester.
"I think more choice for women and for families is one of the themes of the next stage of our policy reforms. What I want us to do is to create thousands more nursery places, not just for three and four-year-olds but also for two-year-olds. This is not a government that walks away but a government that's on the side of hard-working families, helping them to climb the ladder," the paper quoted Brown as saying.
Government sources, however, said that there was no desire to "coerce" women back to the workplace who did not want to return.
The new plan to extend this to two-year-olds will take several years to introduce and could cost more than one billion pounds a year, government sources said and admitted that the scheme would need "significant additional resources".
Brown has been facing calls from within his party for leadership change. At least a dozen Labour MPs have called for a leadership contest. Although there are signs of a truce among rebels this weekend, the Prime Minister could still face an attempt to oust him within weeks.
Last night there was a warning from one of Brown's allies that Labour may have to change leaders next year. Lord O'Neill, the former chairman of the trade and industry select committee, said in a TV interview: "If we had a situation next June, after the European elections, that Labour was really very badly routed, then I think there would have to be very serious discussions and I suspect that there would probably have to be a change of leadership then."
Meanwhile, Brown made oblique references to the threat to his leadership in his 10-minute opening address to a conference yesterday. He dismissed the machinations of potential rivals as "that other stuff" and used the word "undivided" twice.
Brown told delegates "all our undivided efforts" must be focused on repairing the damage to the economy to protect mortgages and jobs, adding: "That, I know, has the undivided attention and focus of this party. The eyes of the country are on us and the people of this country will want us to be addressing their problems, and they will want us to be talking and debating and also taking decisions that will help them with their mortgages, with their businesses and their jobs."
Making a brief reference to his own troubles, Brown said: "What a week. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. Not that other stuff. But, a world economy changing almost by the day and almost by the hour."