11:00am Thursday 6th March 2014
By Tom Edwards
A WORCESTERSHIRE MP says mothers who are prepared to go to work should have free childcare.
Harriett Baldwin says too many women are taking huge financial hits and dropping out of the workplace once they have a child.
The Conservative, who represents West Worcestershire, says the cost to the country is "enormous" and believes billions of extra tax revenue could be clawed back if it changed.
She is squarely blaming the cost of childcare - saying too many women face being stuck at home rather than work to fund the payments.
She says making childcare free - as long as the parent is prepared to work - would see a step-change for an entire generation.
Mrs Baldwin says the mother could then be asked to make a contribution as a percentage of their income, on a progressive scale.
It comes as a new report suggests childcare costs now outstrip average family mortgages.
"Many couples actively choose one partner to stay at home to raise a family - often that is the mother and this should be welcomed," she said.
"But many parents even on professional incomes find the cost of childcare stops them being able to continue to work and their job progression suffers."
She says the Government is already spending £7 billion on various childcare subsidies including maternity pay, 15 hours free nursery provision for three and four year-olds and work place vouchers.
Lower income parents can get up to 70 per cent of their childcare paid for already, worth up to £300 a week for two children.
But Mrs Baldwin says it does not go far enough in tempting mothers to return to work.
"This still leaves gaping holes in provision, particularly for the reasonably well-paid professional woman starting a family with a salary as high as £40,000 a year," she said.
"For the sake of professional career growth, female economic equality and economic growth it must be worth trying to think again about how we can better allocate taxpayer cash in this area.
"Some will argue the subsidies should only help women in low wage work.
"I certainly think this subsidy is important, because of the extensive evidence that children who grow up in a workless household are likely to suffer a lifetime of poverty.
"But rather than focus this subsidy on just low wage parents, let’s make it a universal full-time offer to all children aged between one and rising to five who choose not to be stay-at-home parents.
"Let’s make free child care available just to those who will use it to work.
"And let's ask for a contribution for each child at a percentage of the parent's net earnings so that it's a progressive scale."
The Family and Childcare Trust has published a new report saying average full-time childcare costs for a family with a two-year-old and a five-year-old are estimated at £11,700 a year, up 27 per cent since 2009.
The average annual mortgage was £7,207 last year.
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