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Child Care

Volume 205: debated on Tuesday 10 March 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had with employers regarding child care.

The Advisory Committee on Women's Employment, which I chair and which includes employer representatives, has discussed child care on a number of occasions.

The tax concession in the 1990 Budget, which allowed tax relief for employees on the benefit of nursery facilities provided by an employer, has been instrumental in promoting child care arrangements.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that the Midland bank, which has done much to develop child care, has said of the Government recently that they keep calling its representatives to conferences at which they urge the importance of child care, but they do nothing. Is it about time that the Government took the opportunities of our youngest children seriously, gave their parents the opportunities that they are looking for and made sure that children receive the very best start, which is something that is taken for granted in other European countries?

I have already referred to the tax concession in the 1990 Budget. That has shown that the Government are concerned. In the European Community, the United Kingdom has the highest proportion of women in work, with the exception of Denmark. About 63 per cent. of women of working age with children are economically active. That suggests that we are doing quite well by working women.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the United Kingdom has many more women in work than any other European nation and that tax relief on workplace nurseries, which was introduced in the 1990 Budget by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has greatly assisted many working women?

My hon. Friend is right. It is too often forgotten—this is another dimension—that in Britain the age at which children start school is comparatively young. Children in Britain start school at five, whereas the starting ages are six in France, Germany and Italy and seven in Denmark.

When the Equal Opportunities Commission, in its equality agenda, describes child care facilities as meagre in the extreme compared with the facilities that are available in the rest of Europe, when we know that the women in work to whom the Minister has referred are often forced into part-time work because of inadequate child care arrangements and when we bear in mind his entirely complacent answer, is not it a good thing that a Labour Government are coming who will ensure that child care provision is expanded?

In a recent survey of women who work part time, only 6 per cent. said that they would prefer to work full time.