Letter: Welfare reform

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Sir: I was concerned to read Tony Benn's defence of the current system of maternity benefits (letter, 13 January).

Maternity payments no longer benefit those most in need. In fact, they redistribute resources away from the poorest in society, because the more you earn, the more you get. For example, a woman earning pounds 50,000 a year will receive maternity payments of almost pounds 6,000, while another earning pounds 60 per week gets nothing, because she is below the lower earnings limit.

Although pounds 500m is spent on this benefit, one in five women workers who get pregnant get nothing.

Labour established the welfare state in 1945 - a different time, and in many ways a different world. Breadwinners were usually men, with women playing a role outside the workplace. Since the 40s, there has been an explosion of women working, particularly part-time.The social security system, and maternity benefits in particular, has not changed to reflect this.

A reforming government that wants to rejuvenate the welfare state must modernise it, and that means ensuring that redistribution is towards, and not away from, those poorest women who currently face exclusion.

LORNA FITZSIMONS MP

(Rochdale, Lab)

Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party Women's Group

House of Commons

London SW1

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