Clause 14 - Qualifying child

Part of Childcare Payments Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 23 October 2014.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North 11:30, 23 October 2014

I beg to move amendment 17, in clause 14, page 8, line 36, at end insert—

‘( ) A child is a qualifying child for the purposes of this Act until the last day of the week in which falls the 1 September following the child’s 11th birthday (or 18th birthday in the case of a disabled child).’

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan.

Committee members will be aware that the provisions in clause 14 relate to qualifying children and lay out the criteria that children must meet in order to be eligible for the scheme. The clause is therefore fundamental to the entire Bill, so it is of the utmost importance that we get its provisions right. Failure to do so would risk undermining the entire scheme.

I understand that the Government’s intention is to frame regulations such that a qualifying child is defined as one aged under 12 or, in the case of a disabled child, under 17. Will the Minister clarify whether that will be aligned with the start of the school year, or with some other date? Such a definition would not fit easily with section 6 of the Childcare Act 2006, which places a duty on local authorities to provide sufficient child care for working parents with disabled children aged up to 18 years, as far as practicable. In practice, the sufficiency duty is constrained by local authorities’ limited resources—we have all seen the considerable cuts that they have suffered recently. That said, the Department for Education publishes annual statutory guidance that sets out what can be expected of local authorities in meeting the duty.

I am sure that fellow Committee members will be aware of the report published in July by the independent parliamentary inquiry into child care for disabled children, in which my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham took a leading role. The inquiry identified a key gap in access to child care and activities for older children and young people. Many such activities and the gaps faced by parents simply do not fit easily into the current support framework, in which child care costs and access are based on supporting parents into work. Undoubtedly, one reason for that is the limited  financial support available to parents with older disabled children, the result of which is the limited market for provision that we currently see.

The 2006 Act’s sufficiency duty is not compensating for the failure to provide child care for disabled children. In short, older disabled children, as well as those with particularly complex needs, are missing out. That has knock-on consequences for parent carers who, as a result, are excluded from employment opportunities. Although not directly contradictory to the provisions of section 6 of the 2006 Act, the Government’s planned course of action is certainly not in keeping with their spirit. The Government should be taking action to address the shortcoming not by narrowing the parameters within which a child will qualify for the new scheme, as proposed, but by adopting the amendment.

Acting to align the maximum age of eligibility for the tax-free child care scheme and the child care element of universal credit with the 2006 Act would ensure that older disabled children can benefit from financial support, and it would also help to address the current poor provision for that age group. Failure to accept the amendment will effectively mean that disabled children as young as 16 will lose out on the provision; we all know that there would be considerable advantages to the well-being of the young person and their family if support continued until after their 18th birthday.

I urge the Minister to increase to 18 the maximum age of eligibility for disabled children in the tax-free child care scheme and, in future, the child care element of universal credit, in order to align the scheme with the prescriptions of the 2006 Act’s sufficiency duty. That would not only support families with disabled children but help to nurture a market for provision for that particular group. How does the Minister intend to address the shortcoming I have described?