Cameron under fire for ‘cleaner tax break’ plan

By Oliver Hotham and Ian Dunt

Plans to offer tax breaks to people who hire domestic workers have been roundly attacked by critics.

The prime minister said the idea of offering families using cleaning services, childcare or gardeners tax breaks was "worth looking at" during a trip to the Northern Future Forum in Sweden.

"I don't know exactly how it works but I was interested in Sweden's experience in encouraging and helping women go out to work and improve participation in the workforce," he said.

"One of the points of coming to conferences like these is not to have a long communique of policies we are all going to immediately adopt but to listen and learn from what other countries are doing and clearly Sweden has some interesting ideas in this area."

Labour instantly dismissed the proposal as out of touch.

"He is suggesting tax breaks for people who can afford domestic workers at the same time as he is cutting tax credits for working parents and removing child benefit from squeezed families," said Jessica Morden, Labour MP for Newport East.

"Is this what he means when he says we are all it together?"

The prime minister also suggested Britain's economic recovery is being hampered by the lack of women in boardrooms.

Citing the Scandinavian region's world-leading position on this issue, Mr Cameron argued there is a positive correlation between amount of women in leading executive roles and economic growth – and that Britain's failure to improve increase numbers represented a "failure" to women.

"The drive for more women in business is not simply about equal opportunity, it's about effectiveness – it's about quality, not just equality," the prime minister said.

"The evidence is that there is a positive link between women in leadership and business performance, so if we fail to unlock the potential of women in the labour market, we're not only failing those individuals, we're failing our whole economy."

Scandinavian countries, many of which have imposed 40% laws on female representation on boards, are in stark contrast with the UK, where last year only 27% of board room positions went to women, and one in ten of the FTSE 100 firms have all-male boards.

Cameron's statements come amid pressure from within his own party, with MPs Nadine Dorries and Louise Mensch in particular putting pressure on the PM to take steps to deal with the inequality.

"It seems amazing that men who can run boardrooms, businesses and banks so effectively are unable to introduce policies of fairness and equality," said Dorries in a parliamentary debate on women in the economy."

Last year's report on the issue by Lord Davies of Abersoch recommended that a Scandinavian-style quota system should be imposed on boards if the situation does not improve by 2015.

In a separate development, BBC director generals Mark Thompson admitted the BBC had a "problem" with older women presenters yesterday, marking a significant development in an issue which has long troubled women's groups.