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Investing for our children's future

Article by Dawn Primarolo in Western Daily Press, 21 July 2006

In 1997, the new Labour Government made a fundamental review of the welfare state and the tax system.

For example, Labour introduced a minimum wage and guaranteed hard working people a decent minimum income. The Conservative Party opposed us from the start saying that the effect of setting a minimum wage would be job losses. They said that over 2 million people would lose their job as a result of setting basic minimum standards. They were wrong about this as they have been wrong about most things. Since 1997 there are over 2 million more jobs in the economy. And there are now record numbers of people at work.

David Cameron has made much about how family friendly his Conservative Party is. But he has criticised nearly every piece of legislation Labour has introduce to help hardworking families making all his warm words seem hollow. He made a point about talking about fatherhood on Fathers' Day. Yet he voted against the introduction of two weeks paid paternity leave.

The current Conservatives are very good at saying that they don't like things. But they have yet to come up with any policies that will actually help families like yours. In fact, but I will have to talk about this in another column if the Western Daily Press would let me, the Tories have yet to come up with any policies that you as voters can believe in. The Tories are simply not a Party that will seriously and effectively address the sisues that you worry about on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

Because Labour cares about families and the way you have to balance the pressures of work and home, children and school we have concentrated much of our work on this specific policy area.

We are committed to ending child poverty in this country. It sounds ridiculous that in 2006 we should still be worrying about child poverty. It should not exist. But it does. And it remains the principal determinant of life chances. Children born into poverty are less likely to attend school regularly - or get qualifications and go to college. Tthey are more likely to be forced into the worst jobs - if any job at all.

Good quality childcare and education are the building blocks on which strong families are built. The introduction of Sure Start and Labour's continuing commitment to invest in children's education go a long way to give everyone the best possible start in life. In 1997, when we came to power, only £2,500 was spent on each child in education. After nearly a decade of sustained investment, we are now spending £5,000 on each child in education. This is a huge difference. And it will make a huge difference not only to their long-term futures and prospects, but also the long-term future and prospectes of our country and its economy.

But it's not enough. And that is one of the reasons why this Government introduced a system of tax credits which now help 9 out of 10 families with children. The system has improved incentives to work, it has reduced the tax burden on low to middle income families and it is working to reduce child poverty.

The child tax credit and working tax credit both help hard working families bring up children and return to or continue to work. I make no bones about how proud I am of this system. It has benefited 6 million families and over 10 million children. Tax credits play a major role in helping people back into work. And they help parents return to work by helping with childcare.

They have made sure that families pay less tax now than they did under the Tories. The tax burden on a single-earner couple with two children earning £21,000 has fallen from 17.3% of gross earnings in 1997 to 9.8% in 2004. And tax credits respond to changes in family circumstances, particularly if the family income drops. They do all this so that hard working families can do what they know is best for their children. Tax credits support families when they need it most.

That over 24,000 families are claiming tax credits in Bristol alone is a testament to their necessity. I have received many calls from people in my constituency for whom tax credits have offered a better life. And a better start in life for their children. And it is not just in Bristol that families are benefiting from tax credits. In every constituency, thousands of families and their children are benefiting.

The tax credit system represents the most fundamental change to the welfare system since Beveridge. It is helping to reduce child poverty and supports parents at work and at home. Tax credits are the greatest help to those who need them most - often with the quietest voices in a constituency.

Labour is investing in our children's future. And tax credits are an important part of that investment. The Conservatives and the Liberals would take these tax credits away and replace them with a different, less generous system.

We will fight to defend them.


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