The Conservatives’ “extreme” spending plans are set to lead to an average of 250 Sure Start centres a year being shut down over the next four years, according to the shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt.
But the Tories dismissed the claims as “desperate stuff” and accused Labour of scaremongering.
Mr Hunt said the service had already suffered significant cutbacks under the coalition at a time when childcare costs had risen six times faster than wages.
“The Tories pose a real threat to Sure Start – a service relied on by thousands of working families,” he said.
“Before the last election, David Cameron said he would protect Sure Start but since then there are hundreds fewer centres. If they get in again they’ll do the same again. Their extreme plans mean over 1,000 of the remaining centres face the axe.
“Working families can’t afford five more years of this failing Tory plan. We need Labour’s better plan, which will revive Sure Start, provide more childcare places and extend free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds.”
Sure Start centres were introduced under Tony Blair to help give children a good start in life through early health and education support.
A Conservative spokesman said: “Record numbers of families are using children’s centres – this is desperate stuff from Labour.
“They are simply scaremongering to try and get Ed Miliband’s shambolic election campaign off the ground – it was Tristram Hunt who said he wouldn’t open more Sure Start centres.
“Labour’s lack of an economic plan would put these services under threat and would put our children’s future at risk. Only the Conservatives can deliver the strong economy that allows us to invest in services like this and secure a better future for families.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The astronomical cost of childcare in the UK means that for many families work simply does not pay. The closure of any more Sure Start children’s centres, especially after years of cuts to childcare tax credits, would make an already bad situation even worse.
“Those who do work often end up having to go without just so they can pay the nursery fees. The next government should move to end this childcare nightmare instead of increasing the burden on hard-pressed families across the country.
“Sure Start centres are a vital lifeline for many of the UK’s poorest households and must be protected.”