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Rachel Reeves pledges to put women at heart of Labour’s economic plans in election dividing line with Sunak

Rachel Reeves has vowed to put women at the heart of Labour’s economic plans in a bid to draw a pre-election dividing line with the Conservatives.

The shadow chancellor promised that the party’s plan for growth would be “centred on equality for women”, while condemning the Tories for “leaving women worse off” after 14 years in power.

Writing for The Independent on International Women’s Day, Ms Reeves said unlocking the potential of female entrepreneurs could add £200bn to the size of Britain’s economy.

She promised Labour would break down barriers that have left women disproportionately working in childcare, social care and retail – while highlighting that “far too many women” are kept out of the workplace altogether for extended periods after having children.

Rachel Reeves sought to draw a dividing line with the Tories over the Conservatives’ record on women’s issues (PA)
Rachel Reeves sought to draw a dividing line with the Tories over the Conservatives’ record on women’s issues (PA)

Ms Reeves wrote: “Labour’s central economic mission is to get our economy growing again. I want to be clear about what that means for women – why an economic policy centred on equality for women should also be an economic policy centred on growth.”

She added: “Labour’s alternative is about the recognition that if we want to build a strong economy, that must be based on the contribution of the many. And that must mean a growth plan centred around women.”

Her intervention is the latest indication that Labour wants to make women’s rights a battleground in the general election and comes after shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds branded Rishi Sunak a prime minister “who has let women down and left them out of pocket and unsupported at work”.

Ms Reeves also lashed out at the chancellor’s flagship childcare policy – a major expansion of free childcare announced last year – as the dust settles on Jeremy Hunt’s Budget.

Anneliese Dodds said Rishi Sunak has ‘let women down and left them out of pocket and unsupported at work’ (PA)
Anneliese Dodds said Rishi Sunak has ‘let women down and left them out of pocket and unsupported at work’ (PA)

The new policy enables eligible working parents of two-year-olds to claim 15 hours a week of free childcare for 38 weeks of the year from April onwards. From September 2025, working parents who have children under five will be able to claim 30 hours of free childcare for 38 weeks per year.

But ministers have repeatedly refused to guarantee the pledge will be met after The Independent first revealed major problems with funding, staff shortages and nursery closures.

In a blistering attack on the policy, Ms Reeves said: “As the clamour around this year’s spring Budget dies down, it is worth revisiting the chancellor’s flagship commitment from one year ago: the expansion of new funded childcare places to children aged between nine months and two years old.

“With just six weeks until rollout, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Conservatives’ plan was little more than hot air – as my colleague Bridget Phillipson warned last week, “a pledge without a plan”.

“Labour’s research reveals that 180,000 places are at risk from more than 3,000 nursery closures due to the Tories’ botched offer. Separate surveys meanwhile have found that more than half of private, voluntary and independent nurseries of England are unable to meet existing local demand and are unlikely to, or unsure they could, offer any additional places for two-year-olds.”

Ms Reeves, who featured in The Independent’s list of the 50 most influential women of the moment, said Britain’s “broken childcare system” will not be fixed by “gimmicks”, highlighting the party’s early years review being led by the former chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir David Bell.

Setting out her own vision for power, Ms Reeves said serving as Britain’s first female chancellor would be “a privilege of my own”. The former Bank of England economist has vowed to make “great strides” toward abolishing the gender pay gap “once and for all”.

And in her Independent article, Ms Reeves said a key part of doing so would be to encourage more women into the workforce by fixing Britain’s childcare system.

She wrote: “As economists at Stanford and the London School of Economics have shown, the child penalty in the UK is substantially wider than in other European countries such as France, with far too many women kept out of the workforce for extended periods after having young children.

“Labour will work to build the modern childcare system that working people deserve, starting with our commitment to free breakfast clubs in every primary school. We will rescue our public services, as we have done before.

“And women will be at the heart of a plan for economic growth.”

Rishi Sunak said he has made ‘huge progress’ for women since taking over as prime mininster (Darren Staples/PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak said he has made ‘huge progress’ for women since taking over as prime mininster (Darren Staples/PA Wire)

The party is keen to highlight what it sees as Conservative failures on women’s issues since David Cameron came to power in 2010 as a key dividing line before the election.

Meanwhile, setting out the Conservatives’ stall to families on Wednesday, Mr Hunt said the high-income child benefit charge threshold will be raised from £50,000 to £60,000 and the taper will extend up to £80,000.

In an announcement hailed as a “win” by Martin Lewis, Mr Hunt also promised a consultation on the household-based system “in due course”, with this being introduced by April 2026.

The chancellor said the threshold will rise from April, lifting 170,000 families out of paying the charges altogether.

On Friday, the prime minister hosted more than 100 women in Downing Street, from business leaders to charity and NHS workers.

The PM stressed his own commitment to “delivering the long-term change needed to build a brighter future for women and girls”.

Setting out the “huge progress” Mr Sunak says he has made since taking over as prime minister, he touted the government’s childcare plan as “the largest ever childcare expansion in England’s history”.

The PM also said he has ploughed millions of pounds into making women feel safer on Britain’s streets, boosting education standards, and championing women in Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers.

But he added: “I know there is more to do. Whether it’s making our NHS faster, simpler and fairer for women, or backing female-led businesses, I am determined to deliver the long-term change needed to grow our economy and ensure women across the whole country can succeed.”