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Annie Hayes

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Tories promise better deal for parents

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Conservative Party Leader Michael Howard has today revealed the Tories position on childcare; key to the proposals is the option for both parents to partake in the leave entitlements giving fathers the unprecedented opportunity to share up to a year’s leave with partners.

Howard promised to consult with parents on the issue:

“We’ll consult on whether it would be better to have a more flexible arrangement, which would enable families to concentrate the payments over a six month period.”

Clarifying the Tories position, a spokesperson told HRZone:

“What we’d offer is a more flexible arrangement. We’d say mothers and father could share the statutory entitlements so if a father would prefer to take on the childcare responsibilities he can stay at home for a year or the other way round or they can share the leave entitlement between them.”

Howard vowed to cut red tape dismissing current provisions as: “Far too much regulation.” Promises to ensure nurseries and play groups are not driven out of business were a key priority, he said.

The Tories would also do more to encourage childminding, he added.

“By allowing childminders who look after their own children as well as other people’s to claim the credit, we hope to attract more people into the profession.”

Caring grandparents would also be acknowledged for the first time and offered a fast-track solution to childminding qualifications skipping the basics.

More flexible school hours could offer parents the opportunity to fit childcare around working hours while offering children the chance for more sport or supervised homework.

On the key issue of childcare tax credits, Howard vowed to do more:

“The cost of childcare is the single biggest issue for many families. A nursery place can account for a quarter of the average family’s income.

“Labour has tried to address this problem through the childcare tax credit. But the system has been designed in such a way that it restricts parents’ choice. It can only be spent on formal, registered care. That’s wrong.”

The solution offered by the Tories is to look at ways in which the childcare element of the working tax credit could be paid automatically in cash to parents who qualify for it giving the choice back to parents on how they wish to spend it, he commented.

Reviewing tax relief on childcare is also to play a part in the reforms programme. Howard hinted at lowering the overall burden of tax that parents pay as a means of addressing this issue.

Reflecting on the Tory and Labour party proposals to reform rights for working parents the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) warned that the reforms might not go far enough. The professional body for HR practitioners said that the proposals run the risk of not effectively combating the perception amongst workers that maternity and paternity leave is not paid at a sufficiently high level.

Duncan Brown, Assistant Director General at the CIPD said:

“At a time when labour shortages characterise the labour market, giving a good deal to working mothers and fathers becomes a business necessity, not an optional extra.

“However, our most recent research on flexible working shows that fathers feel they simply cannot afford to take up their statutory right to two weeks paternity leave paid at the current rate of £102.80 per week – and are unlikely to be significantly more motivated by a small increase. Less than half would take paternity leave at the current rates, but this figure leaps to 80% if they were paid at 90% of their full pay, and 87% if they are paid at their full level of pay.”

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Annie Hayes

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