Stay-at-home-mothers should be paid by the Government to raise their children, an influential think-tank says.
Parents of under-threes should be given up to £60 a week per child to enable them to stay at home or to pay for child care of their choosing, according to the Policy Exchange.
Its report, Little Britons, criticised the Government's early-years policy, saying it puts too much emphasis on getting mothers back to work by placing very young children in nurseries, despite evidence that most families would prefer their children to be cared for at home.
Natalie Evans, the head of research at Policy Exchange, said: "A simple payment through the child benefit system... [would] allow women who want to work to do so, and give women the option to stay at home if that is what they believe is in their child's best interests." The proposal would be funded by scrapping the childcare element of the working tax credit, electronic childcare vouchers and the one-off Sure Start maternity grant, and providing instead a universal parental care allowance to parents with children under three years old.
At £50 to £60 per week to all parents with children under three, this would be in line with parental allowances in other European countries.
In spite of a decade of reform and total spending of £17bn from 1997 to 2006 on services for young children, parents in Britain still pay 70 per cent of their childcare, costs compared to the European average of 30 per cent.
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