Minister seeks new deal for working women

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The Independent Online
WORKING women are "to be taken more seriously" as one of the basic principles of the new welfare system, Frank Field, the minister for welfare reform, said last night.

The Independent has been told that ministers are not only considering ways in which women's private pension provision can be bolstered, but also ways in which the tax and benefits system can be used to ease the working woman's burden of childcare costs.

Mr Field said in a London lecture that Beveridge's world of 50 years ago had been "centred on male breadwinners and female housewives".

Under the male-orientated Beveridge Report, women and children were to benefit but "they would do so, generally speaking, only as the workless members of a family headed by a working man".

The minister said that such a system was inappropriate for a society in which male workers were about to be outnumbered by female workers - with the latest Labour Market Trends showing 11,361,000 working women, just 161,000 short of the seasonally-adjusted male workforce figure.

"Yet the existence of what will shortly be the majority group of the working population has still to be adequately recognised in our social security system," Mr Field said. "The world has changed. So, too, must welfare."

With the consultative Green Paper on Welfare Reform expected soon after the 17 March Budget, Mr Field said that one of the principles it would contain would relate to "how this male social security system can be feminised".

The Independent's childcare campaign won backing last night from Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Security. Although Ms Harman did not support our call for a childcare tax allowance of pounds 1,800 per year, she welcomed the crusade in an article in today's paper.

"We are delighted to see The Independent is taking up the issue of childcare. It is very dear to my heart," she wrote.

"To support women as they redefine their role as mothers in working for their children as well as caring for them, this government will ensure that they are backed up with a choice of quality, affordable childcare."

However, she suggested that this would be done not through tax breaks but through a range of measures already in the pipeline. These included a working families tax credit for low-paid parents, pounds 300m for out of school childcare and an extra pounds 100 a week for parents with two or more children under 12 who are eligible for Family Credit.

Harriet Harman, page 8

Features, page 18