Headlines: April 28th, 2005

The Maternity Alliance has launched what it is calling a Baby Manifesto, setting out for the next Government key demands it believes would change the lives of thousands of new parents and their babies. The Alliance wants policies for families that would aim to give every child an equal start.The Alliance – a national charity working to improve support for and end inequality amongst, pregnant women, new parents and children under a year old – says that in 21st century Britain, poverty and social exclusion are still blighting the lives of thousands of children and affecting their future life chances before they have even reached their first birthday.

Its manifesto sets out ten demands where it believes policies could support families in providing the best start for their children. It wants an immediate increase in maternity pay more than doubling it from 106 pounds to 224 per week, together with the introduction of paid parental leave. It is calling, too, for an increase in paternity pay and an extension to paternity leave and wants child tax credit eligibility extended to pregnant women as well as an increase in financial support for larger families.

Further, it argues for the equalising of benefit rates for 16 to 24 year and automatic right to flexible working for parents of children under two, greater social support for all pregnant women and new parents and a system that gives all pregnant women access to effective language and advocacy support from the NHS.

The demands are supported by the Child Poverty Action group. Its chief executive, Kate Green, said financial support was particularly important for larger families where children were most vulnerable. There is particular backing for the equalisation of benefits from the Poverty Alliance, which believes such a move would end an element of unnecessary discrimination.

Ruba Sivagnanam, Head of Policy, Information and Campaigns at the Maternity Alliance, said the Manifesto presented demands that would really make a difference to families. “We urge all the major parties to accept our recommendations, and offer all families the chance to reach their full potential,” she said.