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Child Care

Volume 557: debated on Monday 21 January 2013

Ensuring that children benefit from high-quality early education and child care is a key priority. This Government spend more than £5 billion per year. As a proportion of GDP, that is higher than Germany and as much as France, yet our parents pay some of the highest costs and child care workers in England receive lower salaries than those in comparable countries. There is much scope to reform our system to achieve higher quality and better value for money.

As the Minister says, the UK has some of the most expensive child care in the OECD. The Resolution Foundation tells us that a woman second earner working full-time on the minimum wage would bring home only £4 extra from that second role in her family, after paying child care costs and losing tax credits, and the Government hardly helped by cutting the child care element of the working tax credit, which hit 400,000 families. Is it not time that the Government got on and did something to help parents with those high child care costs?

As we announced in the mid-term review, we will help hard-working families with the cost of child care and we will announce measures on that in due course. As a country we spend more than £5 billion a year, more than countries such as Germany and the same amount as France, and we are not yet getting value for money. My other aim is to make sure that we use the money in our system much better to ensure that more money goes to the front line and that our hard-working child care workers in nurseries and our child minders receive more of the money coming from parents and the Government.

21. In the Minister’s focus on the quality of child care, will she not forget the value of parents and relatives looking after young children at home? (137920)

My role is to make sure that the child care provided in this country is of the highest quality and provides value for the money that the Government are putting in. My hon. Friend is right: many parents choose to look after their own children at home. That is important, too, but my role is very much to ensure that child care is of the highest quality.

Two expert advisers on child care, Professors Helen Penn and Eva Lloyd, have warned the Government about their child care plans. Does the Minister agree with Professor Lloyd that changing ratios would not reduce costs, but would result in “a reduction in quality”? Will the Minister publish the expert report that her Department commissioned nine months ago and take the advice of these experts who said, in effect, that she needs to go back to the drawing board?

I suggest that the hon. Lady speaks to her boss, who has advocated Danish and Swedish child care systems, both of which have higher ratios than we currently have in England. They also have higher salaries and higher levels of qualification.

We are looking at best practice in Germany, France, Denmark and the Netherlands to make sure that we end up with a system in which we pay child care workers more than the £6.60 an hour that they are getting at the moment. That is a legacy of the previous Government. We are paying those who should be highly paid professionals £6.60 an hour—barely more than the minimum wage.