If weekend press reports are to be believed, I am delighted that Gordon Brown appears to have changed his mind on plans to remove tax relief on Employer Supported Childcare Vouchers.
Brown originally told delegates to the Labour Party Conference that he was removing the tax relief to pay for ten hours of free childcare for 250,000 two-year olds by 2015.
But while extending childcare support for parents should be applauded, it should not come at the expense of other parents who are struggling to balance their careers with family life.
Childcare vouchers currently support over 340,000 parents and help more than 30,000 employers help their employees get back to work.
But many of the mums and dads who use childcare vouchers are middle income earners, often working in the public sector, who rely on the voucher system to support their childcare costs.
70% of parents who use them are basic tax rate payers.
They are popular with employees and employers because of their flexibility and ease of use. They allow parents to get back to work (hasn’t this always been a Labour goal?) and they offer real choice and flexibility when it comes to childcare options.
So it seemed madness to me at the time that Brown was prepared to scrap them.
Since Brown made the announcement, there has been a huge campaign to get him to reverse his decision. A petition on Downing Street opposing the decision to scrap vouchers has so far received over 80,000 signatures. Progress sent a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to change his mind. It was signed by Patricia Hewitt MP, Hilary Armstrong MP, Beverley Hughes MP, Caroline Flint MP, David Cairns MP, Denis MacShane MP and Estelle Morris to name but a few. And there has been widespread media coverage, particularly in The Sun and Mail, which has kept the issue alive.
It is also bad politics. It doesn’t make sense to penalize working parents in Middle England ie marginal constituencies, whose support Labour will need if it is to win the next election.
It is wrong for the Government to force us to choose between tax relief on the one hand and extending childcare to two-year olds on the other hand. I hope Brown will recognize this in the forthcoming Pre Budget Report and reverse his decision for good.
This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!