Wednesday, 30 January 2013

What has the government got against parents and children?

Changes to tax credits, maternity grants and child benefit this April and next mean that parents with 2 children will face a £1,700 cut in income – that’s about £33 a week.

Then, last week, despite David Cameron’s pre-election promise to “back Sure Start”, it was revealed that more than 400 Sure Start Children’s Centres have closed since 2010.It looks as though many more will close this year as the government’s cuts to local council finance start to bite.

There has already been a 40 per cent cut in the budget to train nursery staff, and more cuts are to come.

Now the government is proposing that the childcare staff:child ratios for two-year-olds be increased from 1:4 to 1:6, while the ratio for under-twos will rise from 1:3 to 1:4 in nurseries. The government’s own experts have said that the plans will threaten the quality of childcare, but not reduce costs or charges.

The government minister has been quoting the arrangements in France with approval. However, France spends proportionately more than the UK on childcare, and female employment is lower than in here. A recent study rated France lower than the UK for affordability, quality and availability of childcare. Further, standards of care in France have caused controversy with “young children often cared for by a rotating cast of characters and institutions within the same day.”

The vast majority of childminders have said that, if ratios were increased, the safety of children in their care would be compromised. They also said they would not charge parents less per hour.

When a similar plan was tried in Holland, it caused costs to rise both to parents and taxpayers – the government bill went up by a third - and quality fell.

It’s not surprising that just about every childcare organisation and expert has spoken out against these proposals.

Make sure you have your say, before it’s too late.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Going spare!

The government has decided to press ahead with its policy of cutting the housing benefit of any household deemed to have one or more spare bedrooms.

Most of the households who are going to be penalised are working households on low incomes. Typically, they will be families who occupy two- or three-bedroom homes but whose children have grown up and left home. Many of the families will have lived in their homes for many years, and it is the home to which their children and grand-children return on a regular basis.

Now, if they are deemed to be under-occupying, they are going to lose a fixed percentage of their Housing Benefit – 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms.  The Government’s impact assessment shows that those affected will lose an average of £14 a week. Housing association tenants are expected to lose £16 a week on average.

More than 660,000 households are set to lose out from this measure across the UK.  The Government admits that many of the tenants who will lose out stand no chance of moving to a smaller home, because there isn’t one available. Even where one is available, the likelihood is that it will be miles from the current home.

There is likely to be a massive impact on the social support networks that families, friends and neighbours currently have. I well remember that when the then Conservative government forced up bus-fares in the 1980s, there was a huge increase in demand for home and social care – particularly for the elderly – as people found themselves unable to pay for the increased costs of visiting elderly relatives, often on a daily basis.

Many councils have had good schemes to help households who want to move to a smaller home to do so – some have even included incentives. But what the government is doing is miles away from this good practice. Expect increased arrears, increased homelessness, and a reduction in family and social care.