Scotland politics

Lord Smith attends meeting of childcare campaigners

Child playing
Image caption Childcare was one of the key issues in the referendum campaign

Lord Smith of Kelvin, who is examining proposals for more powers for Scotland, has attended a meeting of childcare campaigners.

The chairman of the Smith Commission heard views on ways to reform the country's childcare system.

Childcare body Children in Scotland has called for "full control over welfare and benefits relating to children, families and work".

The commission is due to reach agreement on new powers by 30 November.

Lord Smith was tasked by Prime Minister David Cameron with reaching an agreement between Scotland's political parties on more powers, after voters rejected Scottish independence.

Members of the public and Scotland's civic bodies have also been invited to submit their views.

'Full control'

In a letter to Lord Smith, Children in Scotland's chief executive, Jackie Brock, wrote: "Childcare provides one example why we believe these powers must be devolved.

"We cannot secure a stronger economy and social justice without transforming our childcare system.

"If we are to achieve this, we require a genuinely integrated and coherent childcare system with all income tax and benefits decided by one government ­- not two."

Ms Brock, who chaired the meeting that Lord Smith attended, called for the removal of "the inequalities which blight the lives of around 20% of our poorest children and their families".

She argued that this would "require full control over welfare and benefits relating to children, families and work".

A spokesman for the commission said Lord Smith expected to attend about 25 such meetings of different organisations to hear their views.

The meeting follows the commission's first talks with representatives of Scotland's political parties on Wednesday, each of whom have submitted their proposals for more powers in areas including tax and welfare.

Welfare powers

The SNP wants powers over welfare spending, including all working age benefits, to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Greens, who also campaigned for independence, have called for the bulk of the welfare system, including housing benefit, to be devolved.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who backed Scotland remaining in the UK, want most welfare powers to remain at UK level.

Both Labour and the Conservatives back control over housing benefit and attendance allowance being passed to MSPs.

Childcare policy, which is already devolved in Scotland, was one of the battlegrounds in the referendum campaign.

The Scottish government had proposed about half of two-year-olds receiving 600 hours of childcare a year in the first parliament after independence, followed by all pre-school children from the age of one receiving 1,140 hours of free childcare a year by the end of the second.

Labour said it would extend free childcare for three and four-year-olds to 25 hours a week for working parents, paid for by a levy on banks.

In March, the coalition government at Westminster, which includes the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, announced plans to offer families a new childcare subsidy worth up to £2,000 per child, which it claimed would help about 210,000 families in Scotland.

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