Labour has unveiled plans for a significant boost to paternity leave if it wins the election - doubling the time fathers can take off to four weeks and adding more than £100 a week to match the minimum wage.
The boost is expected to cost the taxpayer at least £150m a year if it succeeds in raising take-up by around a quarter - a sum the Opposition says would be more than offset by savings in tax credits from extending free childcare.
Launching what the party dubbed "Father's Month" as part of a coordinated push of family-friendly policies, leader Ed Miliband contrasted the reform with a Conservative promise of a tax break for married couples.
"The Tories want to spend £700m on what they call a married couple's allowance but which in fact will go to just one in five families with children," he said.
"Instead, at the heart of Labour's plan is the belief that Britain succeeds when modern working families succeed.
"That means giving dads, as well as mums, the chance to spend more time at home in those crucial weeks after babies have been born."
Labour said adopting the reforms, first put forward by the left-leaning IPPR think tank last year, would benefit up to 400,000 families a year.
Under existing rules new fathers qualify for a statutory £138.18 a week, equivalent to £3.45 an hour for a 40-hour week, with employers encouraged to make up the gap in the employee's usual pay.
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
1/6 Settled Silvers
These are the comfortably-off over-60s, still in work or drawing a decent pension – or both – who are enjoying their entitlements such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, free bus passes and free TV licence. They are worried about immigration and Europe. Both the Conservatives – who are pledging to keep benefits for wealthier pensioners – and Ukip want their votes
2/6 Squeezed Semis
Slightly older than the Harassed Hipsters, they are the second key group for Labour’s family-focused election strategy. They are married couples on low to middle incomes who own unpretentious semi-detached homes in suburban areas. In 2001, these were the Pebbledash People sought by the Conservatives. Now the pebbledash is gone and a modest conservatory has been built at the back
3/6 Aldi Woman
In 1997 and 2001 she was Worcester Woman – a middle-class Middle Englander shopping at Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. Today, the age of austerity means she still goes to Waitrose for her basic food shop but cannily switches to Aldi for her luxury bargains such as Parma ham and prosecco. Identified by Caroline Flint, she is a key target of both Labour and the Conservatives
4/6 Glass Ceiling Woman
In her thirties or forties, she has an established career under her belt, perhaps in the “marzipan layer” – one position below the still male-dominated senior executive level. She is now, according to Nick Clegg, forced into making the “heart-breaking choice” between staying at home to bring up her children and going to work and forking out for high-cost, round-the-clock childcare
5/6 Harassed Hipsters
One of the two key groups identified by Labour as crucial to hand Ed Miliband the keys to Downing Street. Well-paid professional couples, often with children, they live in diverse urban and metropolitan areas rather than the suburbs. More comfortably off than most swing voters, they are time poor – struggling to balance raising a young family with busy work schedules
These are mainly first-time voters, though some are in their twenties – students and digital-age generation renters helping to fuel the “Green Surge”. Idealists, but with no tribal loyalty to any party, they are anti-austerity, middle class, living in urban areas. Despite studying at university or recently graduated, they are struggling to find decent jobs and want cheaper housing and a higher minimum wage
Only just over half of new fathers (55 per cent) take it up at present,
Bringing the taxpayer-funded contribution up to minimum wage level would increase take-up to around 70 per cent, the IPPR estimates, at a cost to the Treasury of around £150m in 2015/16.
With the party's spending plans under close scrutiny ahead of the election, Labour said House of Commons figures showed its policy of extending free childcare to three and four-year-olds - paid for by a bank levy - would save "significantly" more in tax credits than the cost of the extra paternity pay.
"The modern British family needs government to be more flexible in what it does to help," Mr Miliband said.
"Thanks to the last Labour government, fathers have two weeks' paid paternity leave.
"Millions of families have benefited, with parents saying this has helped them support each other, share caring responsibilities and bond with their children. But the money isn't great - and too many dads don't take up their rights because they feel they have to go back to work so they can provide for their family."
He pointed to the party's weekend announcement that it would end the "crazy" situation of underused and mothballed Sure Start children's centres by restoring an obligation on councils to provide childcare via them.
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said using private and charity providers would mean 50,000 new places could be laid on at no cost to the taxpayer - a claim disputed by campaigners.
The Pre-School Learning Alliance welcomed the commitment to restore facilities but said "it would be short-sighted to suggest that such an initiative would not require additional funding from government".
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