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Baby steps for making childcare work

You’d be forgiven for thinking that, given everything that’s happening in politics at the moment, there wouldn’t be much room for anything else. But this week, against the odds, we’ve seen childcare and Universal Credit hit the headlines again.

The government are making it easier for parents on Universal Credit to claim help with their childcare costs. Previously, parents had to report their childcare costs by the end of the month in which they paid them. If they missed this deadline, they faced losing up to £1,100 for that month. Now, they’ve been given an extra month to report these costs, giving them more flexibility in fitting this task around their lives.

What does this mean for struggling parents?

This is a welcome change – but does little to address the real problems that plague the system. It’s set up to leave parents to struggle from the start: parents have to pay their childcare costs upfront, before waiting up to a month to be paid back. This leaves them in a cycle of constant debt, with parents having to make huge sacrifices to make ends meet.

One parent had to sell her car to pay childcare costs, while another regularly leaves work on Fridays wondering whether she’ll be able to pay for the childcare she needs to return on the Monday. And many parents have told us of the limits this has imposed on their careers: having to cut back hours, stick to jobs that fit around term time, turn down promotions and dream job offers. This goes against the very heart of what Universal Credit sets out to achieve – to make sure that people are always better off working.

Baby steps

But the good news is, politicians are sitting up to listen to the problems parents are facing under Universal Credit.

Last week, the Work and Pensions Committee held the second part of their inquiry into school holiday poverty, building on the powerful testimony in the first session. Then, alongside evidence from Save the Children and other charities, parents had told the Committee about their struggles to make ends meet in the long summer holidays. Committee members spoke of this evidence being the most powerful they had ever heard – and in response called government ministers in to be questioned on school holiday poverty.

In the second session, the message had clearly hit home, with welfare minister Will Quince pointing to childcare as a key issue and stating the government’s intention to improve the system. Now we need to see these good intentions turned into action.

Keeping the pressure up

When an issue manages to get attention in such a turbulent political landscape, you know it’s important. Improving the system would transform the lives of half a million families: despite the distractions, the government must scrap upfront costs so that every family has the support they deserve.

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