Commission on Social Justice: Minimum wage warning for Labour as party urged to adopt student loans: Family

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Child Benefit should be increased but taxed for top- rate taxpayers.

Nursery education for most three and 4-year-olds.

More day care facilities or help with child care costs.

Welfare to work strategies for lone parents.

Reform the CSA.

A statement of parental responsibilities.

The report has set out some imaginative yet practical plans for supporting and strengthening families which put the welfare of children at the heart of a just society.

The report says: 'Children are not a private pleasure or a personal burden; they are 100 per cent of the nation's future. Investment in their life- chances is the best social and economic investment we can make . . . if we want to create a better society, we must value children and the families that nurture them far more widely than we do now.'

In one of the most radical and contentious proposals, all mothers with children over five years of age would have to work at least part-time in order to qualify for benefits as part of the 'welfare to work' strategy.

Now mothers with children under 16 can claim income support without having to be available for work. In 1979, one in ten children lived in a low-income family; today one in three is living in poverty.

The strategy for children is built around three objectives: children should grow up in surroundings which enable their physical, emotional and intellectual needs to be met. women should be empowered to share financial as well as emotional and practical responsibility for their children; and men should be encouraged to share in the emotional, practical and financial responsibilities of parenthood.

In its 'welfare to work' strategy, the commission proposes a Jobs, Education and Training programme for the long-term unemployed and for lone parents, together with the development of 'family friendly' employment. A new social insurance system, together with reforms of means- tested benefits would provide incentives to parents to take up part-time or full-time work.

The commission concludes that child benefit remains the fairest and most efficient way of recognising extra responsibilities borne by parents. Paid at the rate of pounds 10 a week for the first child and pounds 8.10 for others, its take-up is 98 per cent compared with below two-thirds for family credit.

Rather than means-test child benefit to exclude higher earners, who it could be argued do not need it, the commission proposes to increase it and pay the same amount for each child. The change would be funded by taxing the benefit for higher earners paying the top rate of tax and phasing out the married couple's tax allowance for people below 55, which would save pounds 2.5bn.

But economists at Cambridge University, who have done a computer analysis of the effects of taxing child benefit, said it would raise only pounds 420m a year, affect 910,000 families and the revenue raised would allow child benefit to be increased by just 90p per child.

Holly Sutherland, of the microsimulation unit, said this assumed there would be no extra administrative costs and that higher rate taxpayers would comply and be prepared to answer intrusive questions about family relationships.

Reforming child maintenance is another key priority. While the commission accepts the principle of the Child Support Act - that absent parents should accept and share financial responsibility for their children - it argues that the practice has been 'disastrous'.

On the changing structure of the family, from the traditional two-parent, nuclear family, to those run by one-parent or couples who are not married, the commission says everyone must confront the impact of family change and our failure to ensure the best possible opportunities for every child.

Although a law alone cannot transform people's attitudes, the report argues they could be influenced by a clear legal statement of parental responsibilities to underline its new commitment to children.

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