Liz Truss’ plans to give stay-at-home parents a tax break will cause “a mass exodus of women from the workforce”, campaigners have said.
The Conservative leadership contender has proposed allowing individuals to transfer more of their personal allowance for tax-free earnings within their household.
This would mean one parent could keep a higher proportion of their income before it is taxed while the other focuses on caring duties.
But Joeli Brearley, founder and CEO of maternal rights campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, said the proposals would remove choice from women unless childcare was also made cheaper.
Speaking to PA, she said: “Initially the policy sounds great, because of course stay-at-home parents do deserve to be remunerated for the really valuable work that they do and we have been arguing for that for a long time.
“However, if you give couples tax breaks for one person staying at home, we know it’s women that will leave the workforce, not men.”
Ms Brearley said the high cost of childcare in the UK meant the attractiveness of a tax break would leave women with little choice but to stay at home.
She said: “Couples compare that cost of childcare to the salary of the woman, not the man.
“It actually removes choices from women rather than increasing choices for women, so inevitably we will see a mass exodus of women from the workforce. It just doesn’t add up for family finances.”
Ms Brearley added that it was “deeply frustrating” that Ms Truss “doesn’t see the impact of a policy like this” despite having served as minister for women and equalities since September 2019.
She said: “We are very nervous about what Lis Truss will do to childcare if she becomes Prime Minister.”
The proportion of women aged between 25 and 35 leaving the workforce to look after children is already on the rise, increasing 12.6% in 2021 according to the Office for National Statistics.
Ms Brearley said the answer was more funding for childcare and better wages for childcare workers, along with higher pay for men taking paternity leave to encourage fathers to play a greater role in looking after their children.
Announcing the policy on Thursday, Ms Truss said: “Hard-working families are the bedrock of a stable society, and one of my top priorities as prime minister would be easing the tax burden on families.
“They don’t just look after themselves but also build communities, charities and even businesses.
“I want to make sure that our tax system works for them. We will review the taxation of families to ensure people aren’t penalised for taking time out to care for their children or elderly relatives.”
But Labour’s Stella Creasy said the policy would take the UK “back to the 1950s” and “make women stay home”.