I am grateful for that robust intervention. There is obviously cross-party support for recognising that child care is a central and significant issue in dealing with parents’ ability to manage their budgets and go out to work.
The lack of affordable child care is one of the reasons for the increasing numbers of relatives looking after children, especially grandparents. Two thirds of grandparents—well over 5 million—regularly look after their grandchildren. It is important to recognise the wide variety of child care. As we properly extend formal child care, I encourage the Committee, and the Minister, to recognise the role and value of informal child care for the millions of parents and grandparents who are out there saving a lot of money—thousands of pounds a year—for working families. Yes, the cost of child care is one of the reasons for the increasing number of grandparents taking on this role, and it is an important factor in parents’ decisions, but the significance of grandparental child care cuts across many areas. One in three families relies on it; one in two single-parent families particularly relies on it. It is relied on especially by families with disabled children. Often they may be living nearby, perhaps on the margins of poverty. Grandparents play a very significant role in providing emotional, financial and practical support, often through short-term care in times of crisis which then extends into long-term care.
Black and minority ethnic households are more likely than other households to have a grandparent living under the same roof as the parents and the child, taking on caring responsibilities. As we extend formal child care, it is important to acknowledge the calls from vulnerable families in particular for more flexibility in terms of tax-free relief and, as has been said in other debates, unpaid leave for grandparents who are in work.
It is important to talk not just about pounds and pence, but about child care and development. A review on child development conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Nuffield Foundation asked parents to rank the factors that motivated them to ask grandparents to care for their children. The top-ranking factor was trust and just below it was love. We have to recognise that. Yes, more affordable child care is needed to relieve the strain on grandparents and other family members, but at the same time what parents want is for the person looking after their child, particularly in their early years, to have a trusting, loving relationship with them. The report was published in 2012, but it still holds good. It provided evidence that care from grandparents often results in high vocabulary and socio-emotional development.
It is obvious to parents and, indeed, those relatives and friends who know their children best, that the love and general interest shown by grandparent carers is invaluable. It is hard to quantify in financial terms, but it is certainly valuable. Relatives put themselves out on a personal level and that is what we want for all our children. We want them to have that type of care, whether it be in a nursery, from a childminder or, more often than not, from a grandparent or relative. We want them to receive that extra support on a personal level, which is of immense value to the child’s development and care.