Who's minding the children?

Like many others, John Lloyd falls into the trap of only discussing the effects of Gordon Brown's family policies on the adults involved - but families involve children, too ("Gordon Brown, the great feminist", 30 August). The Chancellor's support for working women is welcome but his childcare policy is more radical and deserves serious attention. Far from "supporting all families", as the government claims, it now imposes heavy penalties on parents who choose to look after their children full-time.

If parents leave their children with a childminder during the day, the government will offer them up to £105 per week in assistance for this and a variety of other benefits. However, if the children stay with their mother, she receives no childcare grants, she is barred from claiming benefits (even though she has no income) and the couple's income tax allowances are reduced to half those of a working couple. The tax penalty amounts typically to over £2,000 per year compared to a working couple with the same income. To add insult to injury, the couple are only allowed half as much income as the working couple before being expected to pay 40 per cent tax on the new Children's Tax Credit.

The incentives and penalties the government has introduced make it virtually compulsory for parents to hand over their children to childminders or nurseries from the age of three months. The potential social, economic and medical effects of this policy are enormous, yet it is being introduced with virtually no discussion.

A Beal

This article first appeared in the 06 September 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Whatever happened to liberty?