The Government fully recognise the importance of child care in helping parents—not just mothers—to move into or stay in work. Under universal credit, we will for the first time extend help with child care costs to those working under 16 hours, benefiting some 80,000 families who previously had no such support.
Since the Government cut the rate of support for child care a year ago, 44,000 fewer people have claimed support, women’s unemployment is now at its highest for 25 years and 50,000 more women are economically inactive than before the cut was made. Is it not now clear that cutting support for child care is a false economy?
We have announced that under universal credit we will support an extra 80,000 families with child care, and that we are doubling the number of two-year-olds getting free nursery care. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking us to reconsider his Government’s policy of increasing support for child care to some 80%, perhaps he will explain where he will find the £600 million that the Daycare Trust feels it would cost to implement the policy.
This month, 212,000 couples face losing their working tax credit if they cannot find more working hours. Many parents will be forced to give up work, and they may be forced to give up their child care places as a result. What will the Government do to monitor the impact of the changes to family support on the child care market, to ensure that when women can return to work they will not be left struggling to find a child care place?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is important that there is a supply of child care places. I am sure he knows that there is a duty on local authorities to ensure sufficiency of supply, and I remind him that with the new local authority early intervention grant, there is money to ensure the necessary supply for just the families he is talking about.
Does my hon. Friend agree that removing the minimum hours rule for child care support, so that all families receiving universal credit will be eligible for financial help, will mean that families on low incomes will receive more help and support to keep them in work?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The best way out of poverty for most families is work, and helping women in particular to stay close to the labour market when their children are young is an excellent way of helping to ensure that they can continue to progress in their work and support their families.
My hon. Friend raises the important point of the affordability of child care. It was disappointing that under the previous Administration, child care costs went up by some 60%. We are trying to ensure that there is practical help for families. We are already investing some £2 billion in child care through the child care tax credit and the early education grants, and through universal credit there will be an extra £300 million to provide 80,000 extra families with child care support that they did not have before.