A Manifesto for Children and Working Families in the UK
The government's vision is of a child care system where:
- Parents are better supported in the choices they make about work and family
- Child care is available to every family and is flexible to their needs
- The child care services provided are amongst the best in the world
- The burden of costs currently falling to parents is reduced
Many Families Still Have Difficulty Finding CareHaving studied the research, the government recognises that many families in the UK still have difficulty finding child care services that fit their circumstances and adapt as their children grow. The reasons that families are challenged with finding care vary and include the following issues:
- Many parents still find child care difficult to afford (currently parents in the UK pay on average, 40 percent of full cost, whereas in Scandinavian countries parents contribute less than 20 percent).
- The quality of child care throughout the UK can vary, which not only undermines parents' confidence, but also at its worst, can have harmful effects on children's development.
- Health, education, and social services for children are not coordinated and integrated in such a way that those families that are most in need can easily access them.
- Flexibility in the workplace is required to allow parents more time to be with their children.
- Considerable costs accrue to both the family and society when parents are unable to return to the workforce after childbirth because of a lack of quality and accessible child care.
The main objectives of the child care strategy, which was led by the treasury as part of the pre-budget report, are to:
- Enable parents to stay at home longer following the birth of a child
- Provide greater flexibility to employees in the hours and patterns of work
- Make child care more affordable
- Improve the quality of care and early education in child care programs around the country
- Extend the current 12.5 hours per week of free early education over 38 weeks per year (in any registered setting) to 15 hours beginning in April 2007 for 3 and 4 year olds, reaching all children in this age group by 2010, and extending the provision to 20 hours per week after 2010.
- Provide additional resources so that schools can extend hours of operation from 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., so that by 2010, all children between 3 and 14 who need all-day care and education have it.
- Extend the current benefit of in-kind tax exemption to include all forms of cash payment for registered child care made by employers on behalf of employees (limited to œ50 per week).
- Provide a working tax credit extension to œ175 for the first child and œ300 for two children per week; and up to 80 percent...of total child care costs by 2006 for households with incomes of up to œ59,000.
- Establish five 'children's centres,' one for each constituency (the new concept of education, care, health and family support services under one roof).
- Provide nine months of paid maternity leave starting in April 2007, with the eventual goal of extending maternity leave to 12 months.
- Create a Children's Workforce Development Council to set new qualifications and career structures in 2005, reflecting broad acceptance in the UK of the need for a more highly qualified and specialised child care workforce.
- Reform the registration and inspection regime to improve standards of care and early education and include legislative and quality assurance frameworks so that programs will know how to improve the quality of care they are providing.
Bright Horizons and the UK Child Care PlanBright Horizons Family Solutions in the UK is responding to the government's proposals as part of the consultation process that is now underway on the proposed Ten Year Strategy.? We share the government's aspirations for quality child care to reach more families, and welcome the new public appreciation of the links between work and child care.?There is no doubt that if implemented, the proposals will lead to communities that are more sustainable because more parents will be able to work and our workforce markets will be strengthened as a result. Bright Horizons plans to work with the government to create market conditions that help the early education industry make more child care for working parents work.? One of the ways we expect to be successful in these efforts is to share stories of great employer practices, such as how Cambridge University is sponsoring child care for its employees, to make sure the appropriate benchmarks and models are used to measure impact. In addition, Bright Horizons UK is exploring the potential of a planning (zoning) presumption in favour of child care centre development, using our experience in Ireland, where planning law was amended two years ago for this purpose.? From our own experience, we are supplying real stories of what working parents want and need out of child care in order to fulfill their maximum potential at work.? Our aim is to be an advocate for working families so that employers can engage more easily and in an even more meaningful and valuable way regarding the future of quality child care and early education in the UK.
Susan Hay European Chairman, Bright Horizons Family Solutions