Jo Swinson, leader of the Lib Dems, spoke to workingmums.co.uk and workingdads.co.uk about the party’s policies for working families.
What are the main parties’ policies for working families in this election? Workingmums.co.uk and workingdads.co.uk asked all of them to outline their plans. Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, was the first to speak to us from her election battle bus.
She says her party goes further than any other on family friendly policies at this election, with childcare being her manifesto’s most expensive policy pledge.
The Lib Dems are offering 35 hours of free, quality childcare for 48 weeks of the year that, for working parents, kicks in when a child reaches nine months.
“We want to close the gap that currently exists between the point that parental leave ends and free childcare starts,” she says. “For too many women several months out of the workplace turns into several years because the family can’t afford the high cost of childcare.
“It’s a waste of talent for the economy and it hurts people’s self esteem.”
Swinson claims the party has done its sums and that the policy is fully funded, with some of the cost being recouped in the extra taxation generated by those parents who are freed up to get back to work. The Lib Dems have also proposed increases to corporation tax and capital gains tax to meet the projected £14 billion cost of the plan.
However, an analysis of the childcare policies of all the main parties released today by Ceeda, an independent research agency specialising in the early years, says the full roll-out could leave a shortfall of £314 million. Nevertheless, it says a phased introduction and annual rate increases could soften this blow. The analysis also points out a potential £80 million shortfall in Labour’s childcare plans and says the Conservatives have promised no more money for early years and have not factored in the cost of raising the National Living Wage, leading to a projected £824 million shortfall.
The Lib Dems are also looking to expand flexible working by making it a day one right. Companies would be expected to advertise their job vacancies as flexible by default.
For dads, Swinson, one of the main architects of Shared Parental Leave [SPL], wants to extend paternity leave to six weeks, paid at the statutory rate of around £150 per week, and to enable self employed parents to access SPL. “That was always the intention,” she explains. “But we had some challenges when in government in getting the Conservatives on board with that. We definitely want to make that happen.”
The manifesto doesn’t make any explicit mention of altering Shared Parental Leave. Campaigners want to see more funding for the policy or a specific ‘daddy quota’ to drive uptake. However, Swinson thinks the party’s policy of forcing larger companies to publish their parental leave policies will help drive behaviour change.
She’s keen to point out that family friendly policies are not confined to issues of parental leave, childcare and the like, citing the Lib Dems’ policy on cancelling Brexit.
“Brexit will have implications for the economy and for jobs. But it’s also about future opportunities – our kids will no longer be able to live, love, stay in any other EU country like we’ve been able to. We want to make sure our children have those rights,” she says.
Swinson says she knows from her own experience as a mum of two young children what the stresses are for working families. She says: “People want to be parents and they want to work. Both responsibilities are important to people.
“Look, we all know having babies is wonderful but it is stressful. It’s emotionally stressful, you’re sleep deprived and it also brings economic stresses. We want to lessen that strain and give families more time to enjoy each other’s company without worrying about all the other elements including how they’ll pay for childcare.”