Mothers to be paid to stay at home

Proposals for big cash boosts for working and non-working parents along with thousands of new childcare centres have been unveiled in a major new study published today.

Parents would be offered "generous financial support" in the first three years of their child's life - regardless of whether they were going out to work.

Up to 10,000 new children's centres, in every area of the UK, would also be created under plans put forward by the Childcare Commission.

The centres would offer nurseries, playgroups, out-of-school clubs and childminder networks as well as childcare information to parents.

Options put forward in the year-long study include an increase in child benefit for children up to three, a toddler tax credit for the first three years and a transferable tax allowance during the same period.

The report, which drew upon research with parents, children and employers across the country, proposes that under all the options parents would be free to use the money to pay for childcare or to look after their children themselves.

Further proposals put forward include tax relief for childcare on the basic rate of up to £2,000 for childcare expenses and tax breaks to encourage employers to help their employees with childcare.

Unveiling the report today at a press conference in central London, Harriet Harman, chair of the Childcare Commission, called for childcare to be put on the same footing as investment in public services.

"We are quite up front in saying that this needs to move up the agenda of public policy priorities," she said.

"This area needs to take its place as a recognised priority alongside transport, hospitals and schools. It will require new investment and a new focus for public policy."

She said the report sought to stress the need for choice for parents in the early years of their children's lives as to whether they chose to go out to work.

"Public debate had been dogged by the same old arguments and the same false divisions. We have sought to throw out the old arguments and look at what the reality is for children today and for families in the future.

"Parents have to be in the driving seat in the very early years. The job of government is not to make decision as about how a child aged one or two has to be cared for. The job of public policy is to make sure that parents have a choice."

The Commission, an independent body set up by the national charity Kids Club Network, included representatives from business and other campaigning groups such as the Day Care Trust.

Former Conservative minister and father of six Edward Leigh was also a member. He told the press conference that he believed the proposals would help strengthen marriage.

"The best security for a strong marriage is strong support for parents to be able to look after children in the way that they choose," he said. "What we are talking about is a very humane solution, the fact is that in the modern world people want to mix and match."

Ms Harman said the options put forward had not been costed but represented "the direction in which we (the commission) thought policy should go".

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