Monday, 16 February 2015

A prosperous economy with thriving families

Families are increasingly struggling to cope with the modern demands of juggling work and children. With more women in work, fathers have become more involved in family life.

If we are to have both a successful and dynamic economy and thriving families, the government needs to support families to manage work and childcare. But, from talking to local families, it is clear that parents are frustrated by a system that hasn’t caught up with the realities of modern life.

The lack of affordable childcare and a place shortage means many families can’t get decent childcare. Childcare costs have risen by 30 per cent since 2010 while available childcare places have plummeted by over 40,000. Faced with these pressures, many parents are asking why new Sure Start Children’s Centres are closing.

Our system of parental leave also restricts parents’ choices about how to organise work and care. New shared parental leave laws are about to come in, but take up is expected to be minimal because they don’t go far enough to recognise what families need, with no extra help for families to spend time together with a new baby.

The businesses which are going further to help working fathers are receiving no support from government, because it funds two weeks of paternity pay, at just over £138 a week.

I was proud to have supported an independent right to paternity leave. But now, we need to go further to help more people to take it up.

This government doesn’t understand the pressures faced by families today. It has cut support for families with children by twice as much as everyone else. David Cameron believes that the most important thing he can do for families is to encourage them to be married by paying a measly tax break of £3.76 a week, for which less than one in five families with children is eligible.

That’s why I’m backing measures to help families with the cost of childcare by extending free childcare from 15 to 25 hours a week for working parents of three and four year olds. At the same time, we need to tackle the shortage of decent childcare places.

I also want to help mums and dads to spend more time together with their young babies. 

This should be done by doubling the amount of paid paternity leave for dads to four weeks, and ensuring that lower income families can take up their entitlement by increasing the level of pay that government funds by more than £100 to at least £260 a week, so that fathers receive the equivalent of a full weeks work at the National Minimum Wage.