Now is the time for the Government to wake up to the potential of childcare
“I have childcare costs of £700 – £800 a month. I have had to beg borrow and steal to make ends meet, and each month I always seem to be playing catch up.”
These are the words of Vikki, a working mum from Newcastle. For parents like Vikki, childcare under Universal Credit simply isn’t working.
As Brexit dominates another week in Westminster, one thing seems to be uniting politicians and the public: it is time for less talk about Brussels and more action for Britain’s struggling families.
Following a powerful testimony from Vikki to the influential Work and Pensions Select Committee last month, the new Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has already promised to ‘listen’ to the challenges facing families under Universal Credit. This promise was swiftly followed by a powerful speech from the Women and Equalities Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, committing to put women on low wages first.
These warm words are hugely welcome – but Mums like Vikki need real change to follow. The good news is, today’s report from Save the Children and the Centre for Social Justice has a few ideas.
Childcare is an essential daily cost for families; a lack of support to cover these costs is holding parents back from work.
This means they don’t have the opportunity to increase their income – the simplest way to improve children’s life changes.
However, our new report demonstrates that a few tweaks to the childcare element of Universal Credit could change this. Together with the CSJ, we are calling for three straightforward changes
1. Make childcare free for the poorest families under Universal Credit
We’ve already seen Chair of the influential Education Select Committee call on Government to do this. And we know increasing the generosity of support from 85% to 100% would have a big impact on parents’ take-home pay and help working mums return to work or increase their hours
2. Enable struggling parents to receive money for childcare costs upfront
The way the childcare element is paid to parents through Universal Credit means that parents are required to cover the costs themselves and are reimbursed weeks later. This leaves many parents facing a choice between taking on debt to pay for childcare or staying out of work altogether.
3. Simplify childcare support
Parents have told us that the information they get is often confusing and patchy. Families need clear, tailored advice that will help them access the right childcare support.
Our proposals won’t fix everything for struggling families. But they would make work an easier option for parents and take some of the stress out of the childcare system. And the good news is, they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg – small changes to existing entitlements could help fund this.
Good quality, accessible childcare has a massive impact on family life. Now is the time for the Government to realise its potential.