The employment minister, Priti Patel, has denied that a Tory policy to give grandparents the right to take time off work to care for their newborn grandchildren was taken from Labour.
Speaking as the Conservative party conference opens in Manchester, she said: â€œWeâ€™ve been very clear that weâ€™re putting childcare at the centre of government policy.
â€œWe made it quite clear in the general election and in our manifesto that we were increasing the amount of free childcare from 15 hours to 30 hours for working families [for three to four-year-olds] â€¦ This is a continuation of what weâ€™ve been doing.â€
Under plans announced by the chancellor, George Osborne, on Sunday, the current system of shared parental leave will be extended to cover grandparents, as well as the childâ€™s mother and father.
Parents will be able to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of parental leave pay, currently Â£139.58 a week, or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower, with a nominated working grandparent. The amount of leave available will not be extended.
In the runup to Mayâ€™s general election, Labourâ€™s then deputy leader Harriet Harman proposed that grandparents should be able share the amount of statutory leave available to parents when a child is born. The policy was included in the partyâ€™s womenâ€™s manifesto.
In an interview with Sky Newsâ€™s Murnaghan programme, Patel was asked whether the Conservative partyâ€™s adoption of the policy represented a bid for the centre ground. She said: â€œLetâ€™s be clear, when it comes to British politics today, the Conservative party are in the centre ground, when you see the Labour party lurching to the left.
â€œSpecifically on the point of childcare, childcare should never be a political issue at all. Weâ€™ve been very clear that we are the party for working families.â€
The Tories claim the policy will particularly benefit single mothers, who cannot currently choose to share parental leave, but will now be able to do so with one of their childâ€™s grandparents.
Osborne said more than half of all mothers rely on grandparents for childcare when they first return to work after having a baby. He said: â€œIn many families, grandparents play a central role in caring for their grandchildren and helping to keep down the costs of childcare.
â€œIncreasing numbers of grandparents, however, also want to remain in work themselves. Research shows two million grandparents have either given up a job, reduced their hours or taken time off work to look after their grandchildren. Allowing them instead to share leave with their children will keep thousands more in the workplace, which is good for our economy.
â€œThis is a modern Conservative policy that backs working families and gives them the freedom to choose what will work best for them,â€ he said, reassuring employers that the government would work with them to ensure the policy was introduced as smoothly as possible.â€