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Child Care

Volume 541: debated on Tuesday 6 March 2012

The Government do not assume that high child care costs are an issue for women only, but we have increased the provision of free child care for three to four-year-olds to 15 hours a week, and extended that commitment to about 40% of two-year-olds by 2014-15. The Government support low to middle income working families directly through the child care element of working tax credits. We also provide support through employer-supported child care vouchers.

But what does the Minister say to young women who are professionals and managers and who, according to the Daycare Trust, face the double whammy of a 30% increase in the cost of nursery provision over the past four years and the loss of their child benefit? What does he say to those young women?

I say that the Government are increasing the entitlement to free child care for three and four-year-olds from 12.5 to 15 hours a week, and introducing a new entitlement for disadvantaged two-year-olds, so that 40% of two-year-olds will have 15 hours of free child care per week. That represents substantial support for those families, in addition to which there will be tax credit support—depending on income—and access to employer-supported child care vouchers, which were taken up by 500,000 people in 2011-12.

I welcome the free nursery places, but nursery care in constituencies such as mine is often so expensive that nurseries decline to offer the free places unless they are allowed to request a top-up. Will the Government please consider listening to those nurseries that would welcome parents being able to give a small amount so that they could offer the free places?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. She will also recognise that local authorities have a duty to maintain sufficient child care to meet the needs of working parents in their area. The Department for Education is to undertake a review to ensure that that is happening.

Many women facing high child care costs are low-paid workers in the public sector. We wrote to the Chancellor in January, calling on him to write to the pay bodies to ensure that by being tougher at the top, we can help to protect lower-paid workers in 2013 and 2014. Can the Chief Secretary to the Treasury tell us whether the Chancellor has taken that action, and whether he will deliver on his promise that, as he delivers pay restraint, he will do more for the lowest-paid public sector workers?

The hon. Lady will recognise that, during the pay freeze of last year and the coming year, we have provided a £250 pay increase for those earning less than £21,000 a year. The pay review bodies have been asked to provide advice in relation to the future pay remit, but she should also recognise that the increase in the income tax personal allowance, which will come through this April, will be worth £126 this coming year to precisely the people she is talking about. I hope she welcomes that.

Does the Minister share my absolute incredulity at hearing the Opposition talk about the cost of child care, given that it went up 50% during their term in office? Will he tell us how much this Government are spending to help hard-pressed parents with the burgeoning costs of child care?

I entirely share my hon. Friend’s sentiments; she expresses them very well. We will be investing £760 million a year by 2014-15 to extend free child care to disadvantaged two-year-olds.