Tories Warned Push To Get Parents Into Work Will Fail Without "Fixing" Childcare
Government plans to target out-of-work parents in a drive to boost employment have faced criticism for not also including detail on how they would be supported with childcare needs.
According to The Sun, proposals by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to encourage stay-at-home parents into the workforce could include a letter writing campaign and advertising materials, and could also specifically target partners of people who are in receipt of Universal Credit.
However, the plans have faced criticism from the opposition and campaigners who have suggested that reforming the childcare system is an essential factor in getting parents into work and that doing so could shore up support for the Conservatives ahead of the next election.
Labour has accused the Government of being “tired”, having “zero ambition for women” and having run “out of ideas”.
“Tory tinkering around the edges will not deliver for women but Labour’s modern childcare system will give all parents, and particularly women, choices about getting back into the workplace as well as the growth our economy needs,” a Labour source said.
The average price for a full-time nursery place for a child under two, the age group for which most parents receive no government support, costs around £14,000 a year in the UK, with costs rising in London, according to the 2022 Childcare Survey by children’s charity Coram.
James Cowling, Co-founder of Next Gen Tories told PoliticsHome that “to get more young [parents] back to the workforce, government must fix our childcare system" and urged Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to announce support for childcare in the upcoming Budget, scheduled for 15 March.
“The Chancellor should use the Budget to introduce bold childcare reforms," he added.
"Flexibility for childcare vouchers, regulatory reform and further funding should all be prioritised.”
Centre-right think-tank Onward has also suggested that childcare reform should be a key focus in any government plans for getting parents into work.
Adam Hawksbee, Onward's deputy director, told PoliticsHome that fixing the system could also be a “major political win” and persuade “the 25-40 year old voters who are currently moving away from the Conservatives".
He added: “There are low cost options to help parents get back into work – like shifting the childcare element of Universal Credit to be paid in advance, or tackling problems with the provider market which has seen the number of childminders halve in the past year.”
Joeli Brearley, the founder of the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, which campaigns for affordable childcare and flexible working, told PoliticsHome that “a letter or an advertising campaign is not going to change the barriers to women in accessing the labour market”.
“The reason why they're not working is because they can't afford childcare or they can't access childcare,” she added.
“We need to invest in our childcare system so that it is affordable, good quality, and accessible. We know that more than 5,000 providers have closed in the last year because they can't afford to operate anymore and we've seen this sustained increase in the number of women leaving the labour market, of the ages of women that have young children. They cannot afford childcare.
"It's just so ridiculously expensive.”
The Government is coming under increasing pressure from their own backbenches to reform the “expensive” and “complex” childcare system across the country.
Conservative MP Siobhan Baillie has called on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to embrace “positive and practical” measures to fix the childcare system in the upcoming Spring Budget.
PoliticsHome reported earlier this week that Baillie has pledged to keep raising the issue of expensive childcare in the UK with No 10 and the Treasury ahead of the budget and will not rest until she sees “progress”.
A DWP spokesperson said: “It’s important to look at how our welfare system is operating to ensure it’s supporting people in the best way possible and incentivising those who are able to, into work – as this is the best way to deliver financial security, purpose and confidence.
“We’re considering a range of factors to address inactivity, and further details on this will be set out in due course.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe