Kennedy pledges better maternity pay and pensions for women

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The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, has launched his party's manifesto for women, promising better maternity pay, fairer pensions for women and fewer female prisoners behind bars.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, has launched his party's manifesto for women, promising better maternity pay, fairer pensions for women and fewer female prisoners behind bars.

Party strategists believe that the women's vote could provide the key to a breakthrough in marginal constituencies, and have chosen female candidates to fight two of their top five winnable seats. They believe that women are particularly drawn to the Liberal Democrats' policy platform of opposition to the Iraq war, scrapping university tuition fees and free long-term care for the elderly.

And Mr Kennedy - who joked that, unlike some Labour politicians, he had never had the label "macho" attached to him - said women were also attracted by his party's less confrontational approach to politics.

Unveiling the women's manifesto flanked by female MPs and candidates at the party's London headquarters yesterday, Mr Kennedy said: "Many women feel alienated from the political discourse as it is currently conducted and would like the dialogue framed with their specific concerns more firmly to the forefront. There are areas of public policy which do actually disadvantage women and they require a specific answer about how these are being addressed."

Mr Kennedy highlighted his party's promise of a Citizen's Pension for over-75s, which would be based on an individual's years of residency in the UK, not contributions over the course of their working life.

It would mean significant increases in income for many older women who stayed at home to look after children while their husbands worked, on top of the £100-a-month increase the Liberal Democrats are promising in the basic state pension.

Mr Kennedy - whose wife, Sarah, is expecting their first child in April - said that it was "extraordinary" that working women received £102 a week in maternity pay after an initial period on 90 per cent of full salary after their baby is born. He promised an income of at least £170 a week for the first six months of the child's life under a Liberal Democrat maternity income guarantee.

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