Harman: Pay parents to stay with children

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Indy Politics

The state should pay for mothers to stay at home to look after their children until nursery age as they have effectively "retired" from the workplace, Harriet Harman, will tell a childcare conference today.

The state should pay for mothers to stay at home to look after their children until nursery age as they have effectively "retired" from the workplace, Harriet Harman, will tell a childcare conference today.

Ms Harman, who is chair of the Childcare Commission set up to advise the Government on how it can best supply childcare in the future, said the state needs to pay mothers, and in some cases fathers, replacement wages of at least £150 a week to stay at home until the child is two and a half years old.

To date, the Government has concentrated on "formal" care such as nurseries and paid childcare but must not fight shy of the right-wing "parents at home" agenda, she said.

"The reality is that many mothers are forced out of the door and back to work before they want to because of financial constraints," she said.

"In the first years of life the 'childcare of choice' for most mothers is themselves or their partners. We need to give parents a real choice. That means not only a choice between childminder, playgroup or nursery but a choice between family care and care outside."

The numbers of women entering the labour market have increased sharply in the past 15 years. In Britain, 49 per cent of mothers go back to paid work before their babies reach their first birthdays.

"The state should pay for this 'family' care in the same way it pays for the state pension of at least £150 a week," Ms Harman said. "We pay pensioners because they have worked, contributed to society and then are out of the labour market.

"Yet there is no equivalent recognition of when women, or for that matter men, are out of the labour market because they are caring for young children."

The assumption that married or co-habiting women can afford to stay at home because of a 'male breadwinner' is no longer valid as statistics show increasing numbers of women are contributing an equal share of the family income.

"Women's contribution to the household income is an essential part of the family budget. So the reality is there is no choice without financial support," she said. "Women are being artificially divided into working and stay at home mothers. This is a false divide because all mothers are both at some time."

In countries such as Sweden and Norway, both family and nursery care have been supported financially. Their public policy is not seen as a right wing agenda and has focused on care by parents, which the state has financially supported, and nurseries and childcare for working parents which has also been supported.

The recommendations to pay mothers for the first two and a half years of their child's life will be included in the Childcare Commission's report due in January, along with extended maternity pay for a year, and giving to mothers the right to return to work part-time.

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