Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson spoke to us from her election battle bus to explain what her party is proposing for working mums and working dads.
With the general election taking place next week we’ve asked all the main parties to explain to us what they’d do for working mums and working dads if they win power.
We want to see imaginative but realistic policies that will make life easier for working parents.
Jo Swinson reckons her party goes further than any other on family friendly policies at this election.
She would say that. But it’s certainly true that the Lib Dems have put together a fairly significant suite of ideas in their manifesto.
“We’re the party that introduced Shared Parental Leave and recognises more than any other the challenges for working mums and working dads,” she insists.
Childcare is at the heart of the party’s offer to families. 35 hours of free, quality childcare for 48 weeks of the year that, crucially, kicks in when the child reaches nine months old.
“We want to close the gap that currently exists between the point that parental leave ends and free childcare starts. 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.”
It’s a bold policy. And a dear one. “We make no bones about it – it’s the most expensive pledge in our manifesto.” She claims the party’s done its sums and some of the cost will be recouped in the extra taxation generated by those parents who are freed up to get back to work. Plus the Lib Dems have proposed increases to corporation tax and capital gains tax to meet the projected £14 billion cost of the plan.
The party is 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. Something that’s recently been shown to increase the number of applications.
And paternity leave would be extended to six weeks, paid at the statutory rate of around £150 per week.
And paternity benefits including Shared Parental Leave would be extended to the self-employed. “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 policies would see more parents use SPL. “We will make companies publish their parental leave policies. That 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. The Lib Dems have the clearest policy on Brexit for example – they’d cancel it in the unlikely event they won a majority next week.
“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.”
Juggling work and family is ultimately the biggest headache for working mums and working dads. Swinson, who has two young sons, insists her party understands those pressures. “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.”