New Clause 1 — Childcare provision

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 8th April 2014.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Labour, Hackney South and Shoreditch 6:45 pm, 8th April 2014

This is such an important issue that I hope we do not end up with a false party political divide. The new clause is a sensible and proportionate measure that we should all support, because it would not tie anyone to anything much. It simply suggests that we should assess the impact of changes to the tax and tax credits system, to ensure that we all work together to make the system fairer, simpler and more cost-effective for parents and better for children.

The issue of child care is about both supporting supply and ensuring that it is affordable for the user, and both parts of that need to be simple. We have seen problems in the system, because without subsidy at the supply end there is a disincentive to provide supply. I have suggestions about how we might address that through the tax system, which I will come on to later.

Governments of all parties often talk about the difference between child care and early years education, and we have heard a little of that divide in this debate. However, I am sure that all of us who have had experience of the matter would like to see the two combined in most cases. When Governments talk about early years education, which is inevitably expensive, they mean providing 15 or 25 hours a week, not the number of hours that would be needed for somebody to work full time. I recognise that that is unaffordable at the moment, although I have ambitions on the matter—I do not speak for my Front-Bench colleagues, but I have aspirations for what they will achieve in time.

Child care needs to be different for different children. I will come to the issue of older children, but whether it is after-school care or pre-school care, flexibility is the key. I concur with Andrea Leadsom, although not completely—she decided to rubbish the Labour Government’s achievements, and I will make no apology for what Labour achieved through Sure Start, with a massive increase in the quality and availability of child care and reductions in cost in many places. As she, I and other Members recognise, flexibility is vital, because people, particularly in London, do not work nine-to-five as much as is often believed.