This paper makes the case for providing universal and free childcare services in the UK to contribute to building a care economy as a better alternative to austerity and spending cuts, one that would foster gender equality and quality employment. It estimates the total cost of such services using different assumptions on staff pay and coverage and the related direct employment effects. It discusses the different multipliers that could be derived from such 'investment' and the related tax revenue for the government. It argues that the net public funding of such an extensive and high quality childcare provision for all children aged 6 months to 5 years (prior to primary school entry) can be achieved by reversing some of the tax give-aways implemented since 2010 and which have mainly benefited men. The discussion explores the ways in which universal childcare provision, combined with a reformed parental leave and family benefit system could promote gender equality in both employment and unpaid care.