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Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 13:25 GMT
Cameron's bid to woo women voters
David Cameron
David Cameron became a father for the third time last month
Tory leader David Cameron has admitted his party has "work to do" to convince voters of its commitment to help women.

He called for action to cut the pay gap between men and women as part of the Conservatives' goal "to make sexual inequality history".

During a speech to the Equal Opportunities Commission, he outlined a series of areas in which he hoped to develop female-friendly policies.

These include flexible working, support for carers, pensions and childcare.

Families

He said he would also do what was necessary to boost the numbers of women Tory MPs.

Mr Cameron did not unveil any new ideas to help women but he said he would offer "a serious commitment", "clear policies" and "leadership" in addressing the issue.

We haven't said enough about this subject in the past - clearly we have work to do
David Cameron

"Quite rightly you will set a simple test for our policies. It will be the same one that I set," he said.

"In all the areas I have mentioned - pay, childcare, pensions, flexibility and the gender balance of my own party - will our policies help to eradicate inequality and deliver fairness?

"And when it comes to the family: do our policies encourage families to come together and stay together and be that strong force at the heart of our society we all want to see?

"These are vital tests - and ones that I am determined to meet."

Mr Cameron, who became a father for the third time last month, ruled out policies designed to persuade mothers of young children either to go to work or stay at home.

Pay differences

"Some may choose to stay at home and that's a valid and worthwhile choice," he said.

"But the majority will return to work and that's an equally valid and worthwhile choice."

The Conservatives would seek to expand the range of childcare choices available, including from private and voluntary providers.

He said the culture of secrecy about pay levels needed to be removed to highlight the differences between men and women's salaries.

"I believe one of the most potent tools in ending this scandal is much greater transparency." he said.

Survey

He would also consider introducing rights to help carers, with a look at respite breaks and expanding direct payments to those who look after disabled children and other relatives.

His comments came as an Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) survey suggested that voters regarded the Conservatives as the least likely of the three main parties to improve women's lives.

The EOC poll of 2,000 adults suggested that Labour was seen as the most credible for helping people balance work and family life and support for parents and carers, followed by the Liberal Democrats.

The Tories also came last out of the three main parties over whether people considered they would improve women's pensions.

Jenny Watson, chair of the EOC, said: "Our polling suggests that improving the balance between work and family life, and support for the modern family has to be at the heart of any political party's agenda if it is to have electoral success.

"The Conservative Party that David Cameron has inherited has little credibility among voters when it comes to these issues and he has a challenge on his hands to turn this perception around."


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