Tories propose tax breaks in attempt to win 'family vote'

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Indy Politics

Michael Howard will signal a major policy drive to win the "family vote" from Labour today by offering financial incentives to parents with young children.

Michael Howard will signal a major policy drive to win the "family vote" from Labour today by offering financial incentives to parents with young children.

In his first major speech on childcare since becoming Conservative leader, Mr Howard will set out plans for tax breaks for families. He will also announce proposals to make it easier for grandparents to work as approved child minders.

But a Conservative Party spokeswoman dismissed as a "glaring invention" reports that mothers would be paid £150 a week to stay at home and that fathers would be able to take a year's paternity leave. "Those reports are not true," she said.

In a speech in London, Mr Howard will outline six key principles which Conservatives will apply to childcare and pledge to reform childcare tax credits and make it easier for grandparents to qualify as childminders.

He will underline the Conservative "core belief" that families - not government - should decide how they run their lives.

The Tories are desperate to win over women aged 20 to 40 who are considered more likely to vote and more likely to switch parties.

"No one knows better than parents how to bring up their children. Mothers don't want to be told by government that the best thing to do is to race back to work as soon as their baby's born. Nor do they want to be told to stay at home indefinitely producing more and more children. They want the right to decide," Mr Howard will say.

He will set out a policy which he claims supports flexible childcare arrangements without putting unreasonable economic expectations on employers.

"We need a range of policies that address the three main groups of women - those who work full time, those who stay at home full time and those who work part time and are at home part time. We have to recognise that we cannot put all the costs on to employers. It's uneconomic. It's unfair, especially on small businesses. And it will actually damage the employment prospects of women.

"We'll keep the current statutory system of maternity and paternity leave, as well as the right to request flexible working."

Mr Howard's plans include reforming childcare tax credits. Tories believe the Government's current system restricts parents' choice as it can only be spent on formal, registered care. Mr Howard says he is looking at ways in which the childcare element of the working tax credit could be paid automatically in cash to parents who qualify for it.

"Parents will then be able to choose how to spend it. They can spend it on the childcare they want - not the childcare ministers think is best. It might be an au pair, a nanny, or even family and friends," he will say.

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