The Chancellor has already signalled that he will make some improvements to government provision for childcare, mainly for lone parents, but it does not go far enough. We argue that a childcare tax allowance of pounds 1,800 a year would improve the lives of many working mothers and encourage others back to work.
Affordable and quality childcare is the main barrier preventing women from going back to work. Nearly a third of mothers have said they are discouraged from returning to work after childbirth because of its expense.
The Government has emphasised the importance of setting the right priorities in tax and spending, and will publish a comprehensive review later this year. Yet we give tax relief to drivers who use their car for work, a tax allowance to married couples and the "bricks and mortar" subsidy of mortgage interest tax relief.
But there is almost no help for parents who have, on average, to pay pounds 6,000 a year out of after-tax income for childcare - more than they spend on housing or food. The allowance we propose would cost the Government less than the tax subsidy to homebuyers. There is less state help with childcare costs in Britain than almost any other leading economy. The main help is through family credit, available to very few families.
While in France local authorities and employers share costs and in Sweden public funds supply the main source of money, in the UK more than 90 per cent of formal child care is paid for by parents themselves.
As a result, lone mothers in the UK have one of the lowest employment rates in Europe. While 41 per cent are employed in Britain, double that percentage are in work in France. In the Budget, the Chancellor is expected to make the childcare element of Family Credit more generous, and available to more families. This will lower a significant barrier to work for many women, especially single mothers.
But we believe targetingchildcare help at only the very low-paid ignores the same cost for millions of others. While the need is greater for the least well-off, there is an overwhelming case for additional government support for childcare.
"Parents are ready and willing to work but often cannot because they can't afford childcare," says Colette Kelleher, director of the Daycare Trust.
With women expected to account for 1.1 million of the increase of 1.5 million in the labour force by 2006, the issue will become even more pressing.
t Add your support to our campaign. Write to Glenda Cooper, The Independent, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 1DL or fax us on 0171 293 2143 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Question of priorities, page 5
Leading article, page 18
A challenge to Mr Brown
Without working women, many of them mothers, the world economy would collapse. A increasing slice of global household income depends on women's efforts outside the home. In most Western countries, "family" means an incessant struggle to balance work, home and children, in which most of the burden - still, whatever the alleged changes in men's role and sensibilities - falls on women. It is time that this was recognised by the Government and acted upon. Leading article page 18Reuse content