Clause 9 - The person and his or her partner must be in qualifying paid work

Part of Childcare Payments Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 21 October 2014.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North 2:00, 21 October 2014

I beg to move amendment 16, in clause 9, page 5, line 28, at end insert—

‘( ) A person is in qualifying paid work if the person has accepted an offer of work on or before the day on which the declaration of eligibility is made and the work is expected to start within 28 days of that day.”

It is a pleasure to server under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I will speak briefly to amendment 16. As the Committee will be aware, the provisions in clause 9 relate to qualifying paid work. The Bill states that parents will not be eligible for the scheme until seven days before the start of employment, although I am pleased to read in the Minster’s letter to the Chairs of the Committee her commitment to lengthen that period to 14 days—my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central alluded to that earlier in the day.

As anyone who has ever had to search for a child care place will testify, identifying a suitable place is often highly time consuming and involves a careful scouring of local options. It is not uncommon for places to need to be secured many weeks in advance with a sizable deposit of an advanced payment covering several weeks of child care paid up front, all before the person even starts work. Therefore, while broadening the catchment of the scheme, the newly planned 14-day limit will continue to mean that many parents will still not benefit from the 20% top-up when they pay a deposit and any up-front fees to a child care provider. With current child care costs, that amounts to a significant additional burden for families. As I read it, if they have made the payment more than 14 days before their start date, they will lose the benefit entirely. A cash example might be someone paying £800 some three working weeks ahead of starting a new job and losing the £200 top-up simply because of the regime that they have to cope with.

While I was happy that the Minster had expressed her willingness to extend the seven-day period, I have to question whether the move goes far enough to help hard-pressed families and to encourage parents to re-enter the labour market. I repeat that I welcome the Minister’s  initial thought to extend the period from seven to 14 days, but I still have reservations that that will inevitably result in many families not being eligible for the top-up and much of the cost incurred up front when they plan to re-enter the work market. Indeed, I worry that there is in fact a continued disincentive for families to plan forwardly in that way.

Increasing the limit to 28 days would both align the scheme with universal credit and ensure the scheme is as beneficial, convenient and straightforward for parents as possible. I welcome hearing what work the Minister has undertaken in this area to determine the 14-day figure. I would also be interested to learn what analysis has been carried out to assess the extra cost associated with extending the period further to 28 days. On the face of things, I can see potential benefits to extending the seven-day period beyond that which has already been outlined. However, I look forward to hearing from the Minister to better understand exactly why she decided on 14 days and will not consider extending it further.