[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 28 March, 2005, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Tories pledge more childcare help
A baby on a play mat
Childcare is a major election issue
Plans for extra money for childcare and maternity leave have been promised by the Conservatives.

The Tories say they would give 250,000 more families up to 50 a week per child, on top of current tax credits.

They plan to match Labour's pledge to raise maternity pay, while allowing mothers to receive higher payments and return to work earlier.

The scheme would start in 2008. The Lib Dems say that is too late, while Labour says Tory cuts would hit families.

QUICK GUIDE

The Tory announcement comes as the party tries to move on from the row over the deselection of party deputy chairman Howard Flight, who says he will fight the decision.

Tax credits

The broad sweep of the Tory proposals was announced last year but Tory leader Michael Howard on Monday published details of the 460m a year plan.

Maternity pay would rise by 1,400, he said, but also offer more flexibility.

"All families are different, there is no one-size fits all solution," he said.

Working mothers would receive 90% of average earnings for the first six weeks under the plan.

TORY PLANS
Mothers get 90% of average earnings for first six weeks
Choice of 102.80 per week maternity pay for 33 weeks or 169.62 over 20 weeks
50 per week in working tax credits available for every child under five

They could then choose between 102.80 per week over 33 weeks, or 169.62 over 20 weeks.

Working families earning less than 58,000 a year would also receive 50 a week of working tax credits per child under the age of five.

The Tories promise to scrap rules which prevent such help going to parents who use family and friends rather than formal childcare.

They say at least 250,000 extra families would benefit from the payment plan.

The plan would also offer families with children up to 15-years-old who use nurseries or childminders a top-up payment of between 50% and 80% if their childcare costs exceed 50 a week.

Nursery help

Grandparents would also be encouraged to train and register as childminders under a Conservative government - with a specially tailored training course available.

Mr Howard also announced 10,000 start-up grants to encourage companies to provide a nursery for employees.

Labour has pledged paid maternity leave lasting up to nine months by 2007, with the aim of a further increase to 12 months by the end of the next Parliament.

Mothers would be able to transfer their entitlement to paid leave to the father.

The plans would also see childcare tax credits covering 80% of the costs, up to 170, for the first child and 300 for two or more children.

Too late?

Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt hit out at the Tory proposals as she launched Labour's manifesto for workers.

The Conservatives say they would increase public spending slower than Labour, but Ms Hewitt claimed that amounted to 35bn in cuts.

"Because of that they could not guarantee better maternity leave or better childcare," she said.

The Liberal Democrats plan to give working mothers a guaranteed 170 a week in maternity pay for six months after the birth of their first child.

Lib Dem education spokesman Phil Willis attacked the Tory plans, saying: "This policy announcement smacks of desperation as Michael Howard tries to move the news away from stories about his party's bogus economics."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Working families react to the proposals




PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific