Childcare is often the biggest challenge for working families. The Government are committed to supporting men and women to balance work and care obligations. That is why we have doubled the childcare entitlement for working parents of three and four-year-olds in England from 15 to 30 hours, and introduced tax-free childcare, which is available in Ulster. The right to request flexible working also enables parents to arrange care in a way that works for them.
Will the Minister outline how the Government intend to practically, and even financially, support small and medium-sized businesses, who incidentally are collectively the largest employers in Northern Ireland, to fulfil their obligation to consider and implement, where practical, flexible working times for parents?
Flexible working is good for the employer as well as the employee, helping morale, motivation and productivity. It is vital in these times that businesses retain and recruit key staff. Progressive companies understand this and how flexible working is an essential element in securing success. We are working with employer groups and others on how best to promote genuine two-way flexible working.
Fathers also have a critical role to play in childcare, but the Women and Equalities Committee heard recently from some fathers who suggested that the take-up of paternity leave was very low. What more can the Minister to do to encourage fathers to play an active role in early childcare?
It is not necessarily just a question of what the Government can do; a great deal more cultural change is needed as well. Shared parental leave was introduced in April 2015, but we would like the take-up to increase.