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Election 2010: Party promises | Families and children

What Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are promising for families and children.

By Ian K Smith

Labour

On families:

– More help for parents to balance work and family life, with a ‘Father’s Month’ of flexible paid leave.
– A new Toddler Tax Credit of £4 a week from 2012 to give more support to all parents of young children – whether they want to stay at home or work.
– The right to request flexible working for older workers, with an end to default retirement at 65, enabling more people to decide for themselves how long they choose to keep working.
– A new National Care Service to ensure free care in the home for those with the greatest care needs and a cap on the costs of residential care so that everyone’s homes and savings are protected from care charges after two years in a care home.
– A re-established link between the Basic State Pension and earnings from 2012; and help for ten million people to build up savings through new Personal Pension Accounts

So we will continue to make progress towards our historic goal of ending child poverty by 2020, building on the 2010 Child Poverty Act. In the next Parliament, we will focus on helping families into jobs and out of poverty. Where parents, especially mothers, want to stay at home or work parttime we will do more to help families with younger children, reducing poverty in those vital early years of a child’s life.

We will ensure that work always pays for hard-working lone parents. The child element of the Child Tax Credit will be increased by £4 a week for families with children aged one and two from 2012, paid regardless of the marital status of the parents – a Toddler Tax Credit.

On parental leave:

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We will introduce more flexibility to the nine months’ paid leave that mothers currently enjoy – allowing them to share this entitlement with fathers after a minimum of six months.

We will introduce a new Fathers’ Month, four weeks of paid leave rather than the current two. We will also work with employers on how this can be taken flexibly – for instance, two weeks around the birth, and the remaining two weeks taken flexibly over the first year of the baby’s life, including the option of sharing these extra weeks between parents. This will be paid for as savings accrue from housing benefit through our reforms.

Conservatives

On savings:

– stop paying tax credits to better-off families with incomes over £50,000;
– cut government contributions to Child Trust Funds for all but the poorest third of families and families with disabled children;

On families:

A Conservative government will end the couple penalty for all couples in the tax credit system as we make savings from our welfare reform plans. We will recognise marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system in the next Parliament. This will send an important signal that we value couples and the commitment that people make when they get married.

To help Britain’s families further, a Conservative government will freeze council tax for two years, in partnership with local councils. This will be paid for by reducing spending on government consultants and advertising, and could save families and pensioners up to £219 over two years on a Band D bill. We will also scrap Labour’s plans for an expensive and intrusive council tax revaluation.

That is why we will initially extend the right to request flexible working to every parent with a child under the age of eighteen. We want our government to lead from the front, so we will extend the right to request flexible working to all those in the public sector, recognising that this may need to be done in stages.

In addition, we will:
– in the longer term, extend the right to request flexible working to all, but only in the light of experience and after full consultation with business on how to do this in a way which is administratively simple and withoutburdening them with extra costs; and,
– oblige JobCentre Plus offices to ask employers if their vacancies could be advertised on a part-time or flexible basis.

Paternal leave:

We will introduce a new system of flexible parental leave which lets parents share maternity leave between them, while ensuring that parents on leave can stay in touch with their employer. We support the provision of free nursery care for pre-school children, and we want that support to be provided by a diverse range of providers.

A Conservative government will review the way the childcare industry is regulated and funded to ensure that no providers, including childminders, are put at a disadvantage. To give families more control over their lives, we will put funding for relationship support on a stable, long-term footing and make sure couples are given greater encouragement to use existing relationship support. We will review family law in order to increase the use of mediation when couples do break up, and look at how best to provide greater access rights to non-resident parents and grandparents.

On children:

– prevent any marketing or advertising company found to be in serious breach of rules governing marketing to children from bidding for government advertising contracts for three years;
– ban companies from using new peer-to-peer marketing techniques targeted at children, and tackle marketing on corporate websites targeted at children;
– establish a new online system that gives parents greater powers to take action against irresponsible commercial activities targeted
at children; and,
– empower head teachers and governors to ban advertising and vending machines in schools.

We will take Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention, increase its focus on the neediest families, and better involve organisations with a track record in supporting families.
Families need the best possible advice and support while their children are young. We will provide 4,200 more Sure Start health visitors:
– giving all parents a guaranteed level of support before and after birth until their child starts school. This will be paid for out of the Department of Health budget and by refocusing Sure Start’s peripatetic outreach services.
To improve the early interventions we make to help families, we will:
– ensure that new Sure Start providers are paid in part by the results they achieve;
– bring all funding for early intervention and parenting support into one budget, to be overseen by a single, newly-created Early Years Support Team; and,
– set out a new approach to help families with multiple problems.

Liberal Democrats

On families:

On top of our tax cuts to put £700 in the pockets of millions of low and middle-income earners, we will allow mums and dads to share parental leave between them so they can arrange family life in the way that suits them best. We will provide better support for children at risk and young adults to help them thrive. We will restore the earnings link for pensions, and offer respite breaks for carers. And we will protect families from unfair bills.

– Maintain the commitment to end child poverty in the UK by 2020.
– Incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into UK law, ending the detention of children for immigration purposes.
– Enhance child protection. We will enforce the publication of an anonymised version of Serious Case Reviews to ensure that lessons
are learned.
– Support the objective of at least a 70 per cent reduction in child maltreatment by 2030, promoted by the WAVE trust.
– Help protect children and young people from developing negative body images by regulating airbrushing in adverts.
– Tackle online bullying by backing quick-report buttons on social networking sites, enabling offensive postings to be speedily removed.
– Strengthen the Youth Service by making it a statutory service, and by encouraging local authorities to provide youth services in partnership with young people and the voluntary sector.
– Set the minimum wage at the same level for all workers over 16 (except for those on apprenticeships).

Introduce a Default Contact Arrangement which would divide the child’s time between their two parents in the event of family
breakdown, if there is no threat to the safety of the child.

On parental leave:

– Give fathers the right to time off for ante-natal appointments.
– Allow parents to share the allocation of maternity and paternity leave between them in whatever way suits them best.
– Protect existing childcare support arrangements until the nation’s finances can support a longer term solution: a move to 20 hours
free childcare for every child, from the age of 18 months.
– Seek to extend the period of shared parental leave up to 18 months when resources and economic circumstances allow.
– Support efforts by childcare providers to encourage more men to work in this hugely important and undervalued profession.
– Extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, making it easier for grandparents, for example, to take a caring role.

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