Theresa May answers working mums’ questions

UK politics

 

Working mums are likely to be a prime target during the General Election as the different parties do all they can to win that all-important women’s vote. Workingmums.co.uk wanted to test the waters before election fever hits so we asked each of the three main parties’ spokespeople on women to respond to readers’ questions about the subjects that most affect them. Theresa May, the Conservatives’ shadow minister for women, is the first off the blocks and here outlines her party’s vision on issues ranging from flexible working to childcare.

Working mums are likely to be a prime target during the General Election as the different parties do all they can to win that all-important women’s vote. Workingmums.co.uk wanted to test the waters before election fever hits so we asked each of the three main parties’ spokespeople on women to respond to readers’ questions about the subjects that most affect them. Theresa May, the Conservatives’ shadow minister for women, is the first off the blocks and here outlines her party’s vision on issues ranging from flexible working to childcare.

1. I am a single mother who works part-time and benefits from Child and Working Tax Credits to the tune of £350 a month. In fact, these are essentially keeping my family afloat at the moment. I am reluctant to vote Conservative in case you decide to take my Tax Credits away. Can you please assure me that this is not the Conservatives’ intention?

I can assure you that a Conservative Government will keep tax credits. Given the terrible state of the public finances, we believe that we can no longer afford to pay tax credits to households with annual incomes of over £50,000. However, we will not remove tax credits for anybody below this level.

2. Why can you not offset some of your tax as a self-employed person against childcare? It seems crazy that you can claim for things as heat and lighting, car loans and petrol but not for childcare, which for many is an unavoidable cost associated with self-employment.

There are a number of things that we can do to better support families and particularly to support mothers with childcare. You highlight a very specific issue with regards to parents who are self-employed and I will certainly consider this further, but I cannot give a commitment at this stage.

3. Will your party be keeping the Working Family Tax Credit and what is your position on childcare vouchers and on reducing childcare costs in general?

We will be keeping the Working Family Tax Credit. Regarding childcare vouchers, these are valued by many parents because they are a simple and straightforward way of paying for childcare. We support them, and we strongly opposed the Government’s plan to scrap them for certain families, which would have resulted in increased childcare costs for 300,000 parents. I am pleased that Gordon Brown seems to have performed a major u-turn on this.

More generally, I am concerned that the Government’s obsession with state-run, centralised childcare has resulted in the number of voluntary and independent nurseries and childminders declining. These different forms of childcare are important to meet the varied needs of parents, and it is important that different, specialised providers can flourish so parents can have choice as to what provision suits them.

4. What policies does your party have to help make it easier for mothers, particularly single mothers, to go back to work after having children?

Firstly, we do not believe it is right to threaten single mothers of very young children with financial sanctions if they are not undertaking back to work activity as the Government has proposed. However, many single mothers want to get back into work and we must support them. Under our proposals for radical welfare reform, we will introduce a new Work Programme which will replace the Government’s underperforming New Deal programmes. This will offer more comprehensive help to people looking for work, through the specialist help that can be offered by welfare to work providers who would work with the individuals concerned to address their needs and help them overcome the barriers they face to getting into a job.

We also need to make sure that single mothers have opportunities to work flexibly with hours that allow them to balance their work with their caring commitments and are committed to extending the right to request flexible working to parents of children up to the age of 18.

5. What policies does your party have regarding paternity leave to allow men to share more of the early care of their children?

We want to see more flexibility in the system of leave for parents so that they can have as much choice as possible about how they bring up their children and to give fathers the opportunity to play a more active parenting role. We will introduce a new system of Flexible Parental Leave which will do exactly as you suggest – allow parents to share paid maternity leave as they think best. Under our plans, the first fourteen weeks of paid maternity leave will apply to the mother and it would be up to the parents how to use the remaining paid maternity leave period. Parents who simultaneously take leave would be eligible for double the rate of statutory maternity pay during the period of concurrent leave.

6. Do you have any plans to extend the right to request flexible working to new positions?

We strongly support flexible working and we are committed to extending the right to request flexible working to all parents of children under the age of 18. Eventually, our ambition is to make flexible working available to as many people as possible.

We will put forward the strong case for increased flexible working to business to encourage more opportunities. In addition, we will ensure that the public sector – Britain’s biggest employer – becomes a world leader in providing flexible working opportunities.

7. Should women be paid less if they work part time and if not, what are the Conservatives going to do to ensure this is not the case?

Women should be paid fairly. In the case of a man and a woman both working part-time, it would be completely unacceptable for the man to be paid more if they are doing the same job. However, as you might know the gender pay gap remains very high at over 16%. Conservatives have been leading the campaign against unfair pay. In 2007 we launched our ‘Fair Play on Women’s Pay’ campaign and last year we proposed an Equal Pay and Flexible Working Bill in Parliament which was unfortunately not supported by the Government.

We have a clear strategy to reduce the gender pay gap. We will oblige employers who lose an employment tribunal case on grounds of discrimination to undergo a compulsory pay audit to ensure fair pay. In addition, we will tighten the rules on equal treatment with a ‘reasonableness’ test for the material factor defence that is available to employers. Extending flexible working to all parents of children aged 18 or younger and introducing flexible parental leave will also over time change attitudes in the workplace and help to reduce the pay gap; and we will work with companies and charities to help women into work and up the careers ladder. Finally, we will work with teachers and career advisers to ensure that young women make broader and more ambitious career decisions and are fully informed of the financial and professional consequences of their decisions.

8. The Conservative party promises greater support for marriage and families than we currently experience under Labour. Would there be increased support for stay-at-home mothers who prioritise raising a young family over their career under a Conservative administration? If so, what will this look like?

We will recognise marriage in the tax system. In addition to our proposal for Flexible Parental Leave, there are a number of other measures we would take to support mothers while they are caring for their children. The initial months after a pregnancy can be the toughest, which is why it is so disappointing that Labour have cut the number of health visitors, who provide valuable support. We will reverse these cuts and increase the number of health visitors by 4,200 to ensure a minimum guarantee of six hours of health visitor support in the home for all families over the first two weeks of a child’s life. We are also committed to doing more to support families through the tax system. Under Labour, couples with children who live together can actually be punished with a lower level of tax credits than if they live apart. This is perverse and we would end this ‘couple penalty’ by raising the Working Tax Credit for couples, whilst not cutting it for single parents.

9. Could middle income families with children who are just above the threshold for WFTC be given tax relief at the end of every financial year depending on expenditure, as in other countries?

This is an interesting suggestion which I will pass on to our Treasury team to consider. However, considering the mess that has been made of the public finances there will of course be limited scope for action on this.

<10. What will the Conservatives do to support employers to deliver more flexible ways of working?

As I said above, we want to extend the right to request flexible working to all parents with children up to the age of 18. We believe that in most cases there is a strong business case for more flexible working. For both small and large businesses, this modern age of 24 hour consumer demands businesses need to be adaptable and flexible working procedures can provide that. Some members of staff might prefer to rearrange their hours so that they work early mornings or longer evenings and this can benefit businesses who want to be adaptable to their clients’ demands. Increased flexible working achieves better utilisation of the skills, qualifications and talent available.

In addition, companies that have embraced flexible working have found that it improves productivity and staff retention. Businesses should be making flexible working more available because there are considerable benefits to be gained. We will work to ensure that they recognise this. It is also important that the Government sets a good example by using flexible working for its own employees. We will ensure the public sector becomes a world leader in flexible working.





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