A question of priorities

Life goes on despite constant questions about the Prime Minister’s behaviour. Last week in Parliament, I spent more time on childcare than the antics at Number 10.

I’ve been looking at efforts to support people into work, particularly mothers, through my role on the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

On Wednesday we questioned ministers about the Flexible Support Fund (FSF), which can help with childcare costs for someone entering the workplace. The cost of childcare is probably the biggest issue for working parents at present. It turns out that few people know about FSF, including work coaches at job centres who administer it. Not surprisingly it’s regularly underspent.

I also chaired a Westminster Hall debate on the government’s two child policy. That’s a term normally associated with the disastrous, social engineering of the Chinese Communist Party. Here, it’s based on the idea that benefits increase with an extra child but wages don’t. The government thinks this encourages large families and a disincentive to work. It’s a policy which only applies to child tax credits and universal credit but not other forms of welfare like child benefit, school places or maternity services.

It has now emerged that 42% of families, mostly with working parents, receive tax credits or universal credit so the policy isn’t just about a minority with several children.

It does raise some moral issues. There are exemptions for those who have multiple births and didn’t plan a third child or women who were raped, although in their case they must complete a very complicated form.

It doesn’t acknowledge that many pregnancies are unplanned and that contraception can fail.

It’s obvious our childcare policies aren’t working.

We need a new and flexible plan to help with the spiralling costs of childcare for all those in work and starting work.

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