The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is today calling on the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to give women and children a better deal when he unveils his Budget on 17 March.
The TUC's Budget submission says Mr Brown should add another £2 to the planned £3.50 a week increase in the child element of the Child Tax Credit. And he should make it easier for women to qualify for the state pension. First he should abolish the 25 per cent rule that stops people with less than 10 years' contributions getting any state pension, a measure that hits women who stop working to have children. Second, Mr Brown should allow National Insurance Contributions to be backdated beyond the current six-year limit. Finally, the TUC says he should let working women over 60 continue paying NI contributions so they can build up entitlements to a better state pension.
Brendan Barber, the TUC General Secretary, said: "How we treat our young and old is the measure of decency and fairness in our society. We can afford to lift more children and women pensioners out of poverty and we should use this Budget to do so."
The TUC says these concessions are affordable because the UK economy should grow by at least 3 per cent in both 2004 and 2005, thanks to investment and exports recovering as European growth revives. The biggest single threat, the submission argues, is a stalled economic recovery in Europe hitting manufacturing output and investment.
Further modest falls in unemployment are expected, but many of the new jobs will be taken by new entrants and people outside the labour market, such as lone parents.
The TUC points out that much of the recent increase in Britain's economic activity has been driven by older workers and people working beyond normal retirement age, possibly because of growing concern over pensions.
The Budget submission recommends that the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury should undertake a review of the scale, type, and take-up of business support offered to the manufacturing sector across the European Union and draw lessons to develop and strengthen the UK's manufacturing strategy.
The TUC also wants a zero-rate VAT band for all defined protective and safety equipment, to reduce injury rates in smaller enterprises and among the self-employed. And it says tax relief on subscriptions to professional bodies should be broadened to those promoting workforce development and lifelong learning.
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