The Conservatives have promised extra money for childcare and maternity leave, giving 250,000 more families up to £50 a week per child, on top of current tax credits.
The party plans to match Labour’s pledge to raise maternity pay, while allowing mothers to receive higher payments and return to work earlier.
However, the scheme would not start until 2008 – criticised as “too late” by Labour.
The broad sweep of Conservative proposals was announced last year, but party leader Michael Howard published details of the £460m a year plan yesterday.
Maternity pay would rise by £1,400, he said, but also offer more flexibility. “All families are different, there is no one-size fits all solution,” he said.
Howard also announced £10,000 start-up grants to encourage companies to provide a nursery for employees’ children.
Labour has pledged paid maternity leave lasting up to nine months by 2007, with the aim of a further increase to 12 months by the end of the next Parliament.
Mothers would be able to transfer their entitlement to paid leave to the father. The plans would also see childcare tax credits covering 80% of the costs, up to £170, for the first child and £300 for two or more children.