National's unveiling of tax-credits for pre-school childcare is being hailed by the media as a clear point of difference between the two major parties. It certainly is. Quite apart from differences of generosity (Labour's scheme delivers almost $5000 of assistance in kind, versus National's maximum of $1650 as a tax-credit), and focus (Labour is pushing early-childhood education, National childcare and nannies), there is also a clear difference in philosophy - as seen in who is targetted and who benefits.
Labour's scheme is aimed at empowering individuals, and it does so on an equal basis. Every child is entitled to 20 hours a week of free early education at community-run centres, regardless of how much their parents work or earn. The benefits flow to everyone, but particularly those who cannot presently afford early education or childcare. National's scheme, by contrast, is aimed at further advantaging those who are already advantaged. By using a tax-credit, they lock out anyone who cannot afford to wait until the end of the financial year to recoup their costs; by denying it to beneficiaries, they ensure that the poorest receive no assistance. The net result will be to make childcare more affordable to the already-affluent, while leaving it just as expensive for those most in need. The benefits will flow to the already wealthy, and to privately-run, fee-charging childcare centres, who will benefit from any upturn in business.
Equal provision versus subsidies for the rich. That's the difference between Labour and National in a nutshell, and it is indeed a clear one.