Politics: Brown: Budget will be no giveaway

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The Independent Online
GORDON BROWN yesterday damped down expectations that he was about to embark on a spending spree Budget, with billions of pounds being contributed to working families' childcare costs.

In a Commons debate on women, Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Social Security and the Minister for Women, said the Government was planning further improvements to help people with childcare costs.

Confirming the means of delivery, without specifying amounts, she told MPs: "The new Working Families Tax Credit and extra help through the tax system for the cost of childcare offers the opportunity to ensure that all working parents on low incomes get the help they need with the costs of childcare."

But Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative spokesman on social security, said in a press release that if the extensive leaks were correct, with payments of up to pounds 97.50 a week proposed for some families, the scheme would cost "several billions" at the very least.

"This scheme clearly signals a desire to massively increase redistribution and return to the days of tax-and-spend politics," he said.

However, in a clear attempt to repudiate any such suggestion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said: "... there will be no return to soft options in public spending." Mr Brown said in a Glasgow speech: "With a pounds 400bn national debt, pounds 25bn a year interest payments, [and] a borrowing requirement of pounds 23bn last year ... ensuring prudence in our public finances is our priority."

While Ms Harman's speech, and much of the Commons debate, focused on childcare - the subject of a Green Paper to be issued by the Government after Easter - the minister also spoke of a determination to put women's concerns at the heart of government.

She said that half a million women who earn less than pounds 2.50 an hour would be among the first to benefit from the introduction of a minimum wage; lone parents were receiving help in getting into work; and the Government was setting up a "new dialogue" with women.

Women's juries were to be recruited, Ms Harman said, to provide a new democratic dimension for consultation on government policy proposals - an idea that was heavily derided by the Conservative Opposition when it was announced yesterday. Ms Harman said jury proceedings would be held in public and verdicts would be submitted to government ministers.