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UK opposition Labour Party plans 'ambitious' overhaul of childcare

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's opposition Labour Party said on Thursday it planned to completely overhaul the existing childcare system to make it work better for families and the economy if it wins an election expected next year.

Finance minister Jeremy Hunt is under pressure to do more to tackle the cost of childcare in Britain, which is among the highest in the world, to help improve workforce participation among parents of young children and boost economic growth.

The government currently provides piecemeal support, including 15 free hours a week for all 3- and 4-year olds, but most providers say the scheme is underfunded and there is little help available when paid maternity leave ends at nine months.

"What we need is not tinkering but a bold and ambitious vision for how things can be better," Labour's education spokesperson Bridget Phillipson said in a speech in London.

"Labour will not invest in a broken system of childcare provision that doesn't deliver for families, for children or for our economy ... our focus will be on reform."

Phillipson said the party would look over the coming months at what model it would propose, but it would provide support from the end of parental leave after a child is born until the end of primary school at the age of 11.

The party, which has a significant opinion poll lead over the governing Conservatives, has already set out plans for fully funded breakfast clubs for every primary school in England.

According to a report by children's charity Coram on Thursday, the average annual price for full-time nursery childcare in England for a child under two is now nearly 15,000 pounds ($17,835) a year.

"Childcare and family are the politics of the electoral battle ahead," Phillipson said.

Claire Coutinho, government minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing said Labour's proposals were uncosted and would involve "more spending and more borrowing".

($1 = 0.8410 pounds)

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, editing by Elizabeth Piper)