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Budget 2001 Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 20:08 GMT
Brown - the family's friend?
Gordon Brown with children in 11 Downing Street
Children are at the heart of Gordon Brown's strategy
Families with children were widely predicted to be big winners in Gordon Brown's Budget - and he did not disappoint them.

Using the word "children" more than 25 times, he unveiled a range of measures from a so-called "baby bonus", to higher tax credits and increased maternity pay.

Main family measures
Maternity pay up
Two weeks paid paternity leave
New born baby credit
Child Tax Credit up
Working Families Tax Credit up
Mr Brown told MPs that for more than a century children and women had been virtually ignored in the annual Budget statement.

He declared: "When the story of Britain is of families struggling to do the best by their children, to balance work and family life, and all the daily pressures they face, it is right that we have a Budget that puts families first."

His measures were mainly welcomed by children's charities, anti-child poverty campaigners and one parent pressure groups.

But Conservative leader William Hague said people would be "suspicious" when Mr Brown talked about helping women and children.

One of the most eye-catching of Mr Brown's announcements was the increase in weekly maternity pay from 60.20 to 100, alongside an eight-week extension to maternity leave.

It will be introduced in stages, with a 75 rate from April 2002 and then, subject to legislation needed to introduce structural reform of the whole system, 100 a year later.

Our ambition for Britain is that every child has the best start in life

Gordon Brown
The period of maternity pay, at the enhanced rate, will rise from 18 to 26 weeks from April 2003.

Working fathers are to benefit from a fortnight's paid paternity leave from 2003.

Another significant part of Mr Brown's parental package was the announcement of paid adoption leave - which prompted loud support from Labour MPs in the Commons.

The measure will be paid at the same rate and over the same period as maternity pay, starting from when a child is first placed with a family.

Baby bonus

The so-called "baby bonus" was one of the most widely trailed new measures in the 2001 Budget, and it comes alongside a boost to the Children's Tax Credit (CTC) before it even comes into force.

The credit will be paid to an estimated five million families, with one earner or two, with one or more children under 16.

The government has portrayed the CTC as a replacement for the Married Couple's Allowance (MCA), which was abolished from April 2000.

The move has attracted criticism from those who say it leaves marriage unrecognised in the UK tax system, such as the Conservatives who have pledged to re-introduce the MCA.

But the government has forged ahead with its plans with Mr Brown now announcing the original starting rate of 8.50 a week will be raised to 10.

Sure Start rise

The "baby bonus" will double that to 20 for families in the year of a child's birth and will be worth up to 1,000 a year.

It comes into force from April 2002 and is designed to recognise the extra cost a new born child entails.

Amongst the help for lower income parents, Mr Brown announced a 5 a week increase in the Working Families Tax Credit from June.

The Sure Start maternity grant is also to rise from 300 to 500 in April 2002, which the government estimates will help 215,000 families.

Hague attacks

Mr Brown told MPs that some families could be up to 2,240 a year better off under the changes he had announced.

Taken together, the tax and benefit changes would help take "more than 1.2m children out of poverty this parliament as we work to cut child poverty in half by 2010 on the road to its abolition", he said.

William Hague focused on the family measures as he told Labour MPs that they had been duped into believing Mr Brown's Budget.

"For example, when he talks about helping women and children they will remember that he scrapped the married couples allowance," Mr Hague said.

He continued: "People will be suspicious about some of the claims he has made today."

Measures welcomed

The NSPCC's director Mary Marsh welcomed many of the steps taken by Mr Brown but said they regretted that parental leave would remain unpaid.

Stephen Burke, director of the Daycare Trust said the Budget was "good news for many parents and parents-to-be".

Kate Green, director of the National Council for One-Parent Families, said working lone parents had received "a shot in the arm".

Child Poverty Action Group director Martin Barnes also called it a good Budget for families and children but said the government "can and should do more" to eradicate child poverty.

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