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Child Care

Volume 589: debated on Wednesday 3 December 2014

1. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers in the Welsh Government on the provision of free child care places for three and four-year-olds in Wales. (906353)

Support with high-quality flexible child care is key to enabling parents to stay in the work force and gain financial stability for their families. The UK Government are increasing the provision of tax-free child care from next year; the Welsh Government need to do their part in supporting working families in Wales.

Parents in Cardiff complain that they cannot access their free child care entitlement. They can only get a place if they apply for three hours a day, five days a week at a state-run nursery school, which is useless if they work. Given that that means that parents in Wales are worse off than those in England, will the Minister speak to Assembly Ministers to ensure that parents can access their entitlement to free child care places in a way that suits them and not the Labour council?

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work in this area in a number of roles in Parliament. The UK Government have pressed authorities in England to be as flexible as possible and have structured their policies around flexibility to enable more people to get into work and to manage their daily lives better. I will happily pursue the matter with the Welsh Government on her behalf.

We have heard about problems in Cardiff, but of course there are problems with good and affordable child care throughout Wales. For example, in rural areas there is sometimes a 200% difference in the cost from one local authority to the next. Will the Minister do his best to ensure that the Welsh Government access funds, if they exist, for that purpose and that there is a proper dialogue on this subject?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the variation in child care costs. Stability has finally come to the marketplace. The Government’s £2,000 tax-free child care account will create greater flexibility, provide more choice to parents and hopefully contribute to driving down costs.

That is a step forward, but the Minister will be aware that good, affordable child care is key to economic development. He is probably also aware that in the UK we pay far more for child care than most other OECD countries—40.9% of the average wage compared with 18%. In Sweden, by contrast, the figure is 7.1%. Does he think that we have anything to learn from the Nordic countries in that regard?

It is important that we learn from wherever good practice is in place. The greater choice will help to drive down costs, but it is important that we provide the right level of care, and the quality of care is important. I have no doubt that the stronger role that parents have to play in exercising that choice will also drive up the quality of care.