Childcare Payments Bill

Priti Patel responds to Opposition amendments during the Report Stage of the Childcare Payments Bill and then leads the Third Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons. 
 
Proposals relating to three and four year olds
 
The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Priti Patel): It gives me great pleasure to speak in the debate. Let me begin by thanking everyone who contributed to the Committee stage, engaging in constructive dialogue, submitting the Bill to line-by-line scrutiny, sharing their views and giving evidence. I think that all Members found the evidence sessions extremely helpful. Opposition Members tabled a number of well-considered probing amendments that were designed to seek clarification throughout—
 
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. This is not an opportunity to review all the work that was done in Committee. The debate is very narrow. The Minister should be responding to the debate on new clause 1 and the amendments. I do not want her to come to that gradually; it is the only thing that she should be doing. I have given her a little bit of latitude, but perhaps she will now return to new clause 1.
 
Priti Patel: I will do so very promptly, Madam Deputy Speaker.
 
New clause 1 would require the Government to publish, within three months of Royal Assent, an assessment of the benefits of this scheme to parents of three and four-year-old children, together with an assessment of the benefits in addition to the likely benefits of funding 25 hours of free child care per week for such parents.
 
The Government fully understand the importance of high-quality early education for that age group, which is why they fund 15 hours a week of early education for every three or four-year-old. We have extended that entitlement to the least advantaged 40% of two-year-olds, thus saving their families about £2,440 a year. By the end of this financial year, funding for early education places alone will have risen by over £1 billion during the current Parliament. We have committed ourselves to that substantial investment in early education because there is overwhelming evidence, here and elsewhere in the world, that high-quality early education has long-lasting benefits for children. We have seen big year-on-year improvements in the development of five-year-old children who have benefited from early learning, although we recognise that many factors influence school readiness and later attainment. We have commissioned academically robust and detailed research in order to understand more about the way in which high-quality early education affects children’s attainment and social and behavioural development.
 
However, it is important to recognise—as the Bill does—that the cost of child care is an issue not just for under-fives, but for school-age children. For many working families, the high costs of child care make it one of the largest parts of the household budget. The Government believe that there is a powerful case for improving access to child care throughout childhood, and to ensure that parents are helped to work if they choose to do so. The new scheme for children up to the age of 12 will build on the £5 billion per year that the Government already spend on early education and child care. It will help many more parents to meet their costs, including self-employed parents who cannot gain access to support under the existing employer-supported child-care scheme.
 
We recognise that every family is different, and will have different child-care needs and cost. We recognise that no one size fits all. The scheme is therefore designed to provide flexible support for working families, and to cater for different family circumstances. For example, it will allow parents to build up money in their child-care accounts to cover increased costs at holiday times.
 
As I have already said many times during our debates on the Bill, the Government have made a clear commitment to reviewing the impact of the scheme two years after its full implementation. That was made clear in the impact assessment that was published alongside the Bill. The review will consider the impact on all age groups within the scope of the scheme—which will, of course, include three and four-year olds—but it will not consider the effects of free early education, which is already the subject of extensive evaluation.
 
The Government take the evaluation of early education very seriously. We have commissioned a significant longitudinal study of early education and development, which will evaluate the effectiveness of the current early-education model in England and, more specifically, the impact of funded early-years education on two-year-olds from lower-income families. It will also update evidence from the effective pre-school and primary education project. It will continue until 2020.
 
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) made a number of points. For instance, she mentioned children’s centres. Let me reiterate that the Government want to see a strong network of children’s centres throughout the country, offering families access to a wide range of local and flexible services, tackling disadvantage, and preparing children for later life. Again, we covered in Committee many of the points about what goes on in centres and support in children’s centres.
 
The hon. Lady also specifically mentioned supply-side provision of child care, which we touched on in Committee, too. There are 100,000 more child care places than there were in 2009 and a lot of work is being done on the supply-side provision of child care, which is the point of this Bill.
 
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On the quality side, we are providing £50 million in extra funding in 2015-16 to nurseries, schools and other providers of Government-funded early education, to support disadvantaged three and four-year-olds. This is also about improving quality as well as quantity, and improving qualifications for the early-years work force and introducing early-years educator qualifications are vital. We have discussed that, too.
 
The hon. Lady made a point about the overall support for child care and those on lower incomes. The overall system of child care support remains focused on those on lower incomes. The Government are already spending over £1 billion a year on child care support through tax credits and will extend this support in universal credit. Under UC, this Government are investing an additional £400 million so that families can claim up to 85% off the costs of child care from 2016, and £200 million is also being put in so that child care support will be available regardless of the number of hours worked.
 
The hon. Lady mentioned the impact assessment and the average increase in tax-free child care being £600. On average this increase in support is £600, but the average award will be higher because that is an average figure.
 
The hon. Lady also mentioned access to the internet for families—for 200,000 families—and I would like to bring some clarity on this point. The newspaper stories that appeared yesterday were inaccurate because what was reported is simply not fully the case; they distort the situation. As outlined in the letter circulated to Members of Parliament, there will be “assisted approaches” for families who cannot access the internet, which will make sure that no parent misses out. We do recognise that some parents will have difficulty accessing or using the internet, and in such cases Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will support them to register and use their child care account online, providing opportunities for learning and, where appropriate, encouraging parents to use online services independently in future. I touched on this in Committee: the HMRC support is very specific and the support will be there. I want to make that clear so no Members leave the House tonight thinking there is no support for those families. Where parents are simply not able to access the internet, there will be facilities for them to access the scheme by telephone. That point was also made previously.
 
We also touched extensively in Committee on the point about the system being too complex. I want to assure all Members that this scheme is designed with parents in mind. It is intended to be streamlined in its application, and very straightforward, simple, flexible and convenient for parents. As I said in Committee, we are working with parents and many stakeholder groups—including many who gave evidence in Committee, and those we have been working with on the design of this scheme—to ensure that their suggestions, advice, counsel and guidance are taken on board.
 
This is not meant to be a complex scheme. It is meant to be as user-friendly for parents as possible, which is why we are listening and consulting, because it is all about the design and making sure that those who need to access the scheme can do so.
 
Maria Miller: The Minister will have provided a great deal of clarity today for parents who might have been concerned about some of the reports they had read in the papers. I thank her on behalf of my constituents for what she has said.
 
The Minister mentioned the communication she is having with stakeholder groups. Is she also communicating with employers to make sure they are aware of the way the new system will work, especially those who may want to make their own contributions to their staff’s child care costs?
 
Priti Patel: I thank my right hon. Friend for her intervention and comments. She is absolutely right; as she will know from discussions in Committee, this scheme has been designed to be parent-focused—parent-friendly is, I think, the term to use—and to work with employers, because this is about engaging both parties to communicate, educate and inform. Employers have an important role to play—we must not forget that—so working with employers on the scheme design is key.
 
The introduction of this new scheme sits alongside strong early-education entitlement for pre-schoolers to support families and hard-pressed families with their child care costs and support parents to work more if they want to do so.
 
As I said in Committee and we have touched on again today, we have already committed to reviewing the impact of this new scheme after two years, and it is hard to see what purpose would be served by a review only three months after Royal Assent, given the Government’s clear commitment to reviewing the scheme.
 
I shall now move on to the points made about amendments 2 and 1 and the comments of the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). I welcome his comments and I followed his remarks with interest, and we discussed these matters in Committee. We fully accept that child care costs are higher for parents with disabled children; there is no disagreement here at all. The families and parents of disabled children struggle with the challenges of raising and looking after their children. We had a very fluid debate about this in Committee.
 
The effect of amendment 2 is straightforward. It would increase the level at which the Government top-up payments are paid to parents of disabled children from 20% to 40%. This would mean in practice that for every £10 spent on child care, the Government would contribute £4 and the parent the remaining £6. This contrasts with the position set out in the Bill, which is that the Government would contribute £2 of every £10 spent on child care.
 
I am very well aware of the keen interest the hon. Gentleman takes in families with disabled children. He spoke with great eloquence in Committee and I thank him for his contribution on this point. As he rightly pointed out, families with disabled children face significant costs, and that fact ought to be reflected in the scheme. A number of witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee made similar points. I have already put on the record that I fully understand the arguments the hon. Gentleman and others have made and it is absolutely right that parents of disabled children are properly supported, which brings me to why I will ask him to withdraw his amendments.
 
Alex Cunningham: I thank the Minister for her kind comments, but the multiplication that I want to achieve for disabled children does not even reflect the multiplication factor in their child care costs. Child care can cost £20 an hour, but all I am asking is that the Government double the amount of support they give. I am not asking them to increase it by four or five times.
 
Priti Patel: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comment. I outlined measures relating to disabled children in Committee. We recognise the high costs faced by parents of disabled children, and the specialist care that their children need, but increasing the amount of top-up is obviously not appropriate, for the reasons that I have already outlined. I have made a commitment on disabled children, and I am exploring the possibility of increasing the maximum amount that a parent of a disabled child can pay into their child care account. For those reasons, I ask the Opposition to withdraw their new clause.
 
 
Review of impact on childcare costs
 
Priti Patel: I welcome the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) to her position and post. It is good to hear from her. Obviously, she did not have the full benefit of participating in the Committee, so it is good to hear her views today.
 
New clause 2 is about the Bill’s impact on child care costs, an issue that we discussed at some length in Committee. The new clause would require the Government to publish a review of the Bill’s impact on the cost of child care three months after it passed into law, and every three years thereafter. The review would have a particular focus on the effectiveness of the Act in making child care more affordable, the average cost of child care for working parents, and the impact of supply-led measures on costs.
 
As I have said many times in debates on this Bill, the Government have made a clear commitment to review the impact of the scheme two years after full implementation. That was set out in the impact assessment published alongside the Bill. The Government feel that a two-year assessment period is reasonable and will allow sufficient time for the scheme to become bedded in, so that the full impacts can be assessed and properly evaluated in the context of wider Government policy. We do not think that there is anything to be gained from adding a further review after only three months.
 
I think that all hon. and right hon. Members are rightly concerned about the impact that high child care costs have on working parents. We understand the cost of child care, and the Government are committed to supporting parents to meet that cost; that is the purpose of the Bill.
 
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I assume that the Minister and her team will watch this very closely from the start. She may not need a review: if she saw something going wrong, she would take immediate action to correct it, before the two-year point.
 
Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. Naturally, we want to get this right, so there is oversight at every level. Later in my remarks, I shall touch on areas where his remarks are valid and pertinent.
 
We know that child care is an expensive outgoing for many families across the country. This Government understand the need for both demand and supply-led measures to ensure that the costs of child care do not spiral out of control. We have been taking steps to ensure that both sides of the problem are properly considered. The Government believe that increasing supply is an effective way of limiting further price rises, and are therefore making significant reforms to support the child care sector in increasing the supply of places.
 
The Government are taking actions beyond the scope of the Bill to improve the quality and supply of child care provision. These reforms are designed to ensure that any increase in demand for child care arising from the new scheme will be matched by increased supply and not by increased costs. The latest figures show that there are about 100,000 more child care places than in 2009, and the Government are taking action to grow the supply of child care still further, which will improve choice and affordability for parents. For example, we are making start-up grants of up to £2 million available to help people set up new child care businesses. We are also enabling good and outstanding childminders to access funding for early education places. Only 4,000 do so currently, but as a result of our reforms, up to 32,000 will be automatically eligible. We are making it simpler and easier for schools and child care providers to work together to increase the amount of child care available on school sites, and only this year we have introduced childminder agencies, which are designed to improve the support available for both childminders and parents, and to simplify existing regulatory frameworks to allow nurseries to expand more easily.
 
We recognise that child care costs place a significant financial burden on many families, but research shows that after 12 years of consistently rising prices, the costs of child care in England have stabilised for the first time. There is encouraging evidence that costs of some of the most popular types of child care are falling in England. For example, the Family and Childcare Trust reported in March that the cost of nurseries in 2014 was 2% lower than the previous year in real terms. Similarly, the cost of after-school clubs reduced by 5% in real terms during the same period. Once inflation is taken into account, costs for the majority of parents have fallen. This means that more parents are able to access affordable child care and support their families, and shows that the Government’s reforms are making a difference. We should compare that with the situation under Labour, when costs rose nearly 50% between 2002 and 2010, and the average cost of child care rose faster than inflation.
 
Alongside these measures to increase the provision of good quality, affordable child care, the Government have taken significant steps to support families in meeting their child care costs.
 
Alex Cunningham: I welcome the fact that more families may well be able to access child care because of falling costs, but the costs are still high and they are paid by the poor as well as the rich. Will the Minister please outline what she will do for the working poor who do not qualify for anything under any of her schemes?
 
Priti Patel: I will come on to the hon. Gentleman’s amendments and refer specifically to the points he makes.
 
For low earners, the Government will continue to pay up to 70% of child care costs through working tax credit, and under universal credit this support will be extended to up to 85% of costs when both parents are working, as all hon. Members heard in Committee. In addition, as we have touched on, the Government fund an early years entitlement of £15 a week.
 
The Government are making good progress in tackling the root causes of child poverty, to which the hon. Member for Wirral South referred. All Governments are committed to ending child poverty once and for all, but I reiterate that work remains the best route out of poverty. We discussed this at length in Committee, including the interactions between universal credit, making work pay, and interdepartmental measures on child poverty.
 
Alison McGovern: The Minister mentions universal credit and making work pay—for too many families I only wish it did. Will she comment on the role of universal credit in discouraging dual earners? In the context of this child care debate, does she think the Government should look again at its operation?
 
Priti Patel: We had much debate in Committee on universal credit and the way in which the scheme interacts with it. The hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) made some strong and valid contributions in this regard.
 
Amendment 12, tabled by the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), would allow regulations in future to permit parents to receive support under the new scheme and universal credit at the same time. As I have said, we must not forget that families in receipt of universal credit already rightly receive generous support with their child care costs. Child care support is offered to parents on universal credit as part of a welfare system designed to make sure that work pays and that those who need the support get it. Up to 300,000 more people are likely to be in work as a result of universal credit, and we expect a significant proportion of those to be households with children. But it is not right for a parent to receive support under the new scheme in addition to universal credit, when parents will receive 85% of their child care costs from April 2016. It will be easy for parents to access support that best suits their circumstances, so I reassure the hon. Gentleman that parents who are eligible for universal credit will be able to opt out and claim support under the new scheme should they wish to do so. We shall be supporting parents in making those decisions.
 
As we said in Committee—hon. Members have touched on it again today—we shall be launching the online support tools, the calculator and clear guidance. Draft guidance has been published well ahead of the launch of the scheme and shows our commitment to work in close collaboration with parents, child care providers and employers, and their feedback will ensure that guidance is tailored to meet their needs.
 
This is about ensuring that support remains focused on those on lower incomes, and the introduction of the scheme gives parents confidence that as they increase their income and move off universal credit, they will continue to receive Government support with their child care costs, which is vital.
 
Alex Cunningham: I do not want to go over the top on this, but will the Minister please outline what help she proposes for families who do not qualify for anything at the moment but who are still the working poor?
 
Priti Patel: There is support that remains focused on those on lower incomes. As I said at length in Committee, the Government’s overall child care system is very much focused on those on lower incomes, and it is wrong to suggest that that is not the case. Families in receipt of tax credits receive more generous support with child care costs. We have already discussed universal credit, which is being extended to cover up to 85% of the costs of child care. All the analysis shows that the benefits of the scheme are focused on households on lower incomes. The new scheme ensures that for the first time parents can be certain that support will be available for them; yes, obviously, at the lower end, but importantly, as they move into work and increase their incomes too. The scheme is much more fairly targeted than the existing scheme of employer-supported child care. It supports working families, getting households and families back into work. It was debated at length in Committee, and I reassure the hon. Gentleman that that is the case.
 
Today’s debate has shown that the Government are taking a broad range of actions to support families with the costs of child care, not just through this scheme, but through improvements in the welfare scheme—
 
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): In considering how the Government can best take this forward, will the Minister take account of the fact that whenever the Northern Ireland Assembly debated the legislative consent motion, there was much confusion, even on the part of the junior Minister, about its impact on child care in Northern Ireland? Child care provision in Northern Ireland has a different profile from here, and it seems that the Government’s scheme will lead to degrees of confusion and uncertainty, particularly for existing schemes that are well favoured.
 
Priti Patel: I take this opportunity to re-emphasise that the scheme in no way creates confusion. In Committee we touched briefly on the situation in Northern Ireland and provided information and guidance in that regard. This is about working with all the players—parents, employers, and other stakeholders. It is about making the system abundantly clear and simple, not about complexity. Guidance has been drafted. We are working with third parties. We are designing a calculator tool, as we have discussed before. This is all about giving guidance and providing clarity.
 
I shall briefly cover amendments 3 to 11 on families in receipt of tax credits. The child care element of tax credits is just one component of the package of support designed to help lower-income households. I emphasise that there is support for those on low incomes, in particular. We should reflect on the fact that under the new scheme more working families than ever before will be eligible for support with child care costs. The scheme will be an important component of the overall offer to working families. It will sit alongside existing schemes to ensure that support is available to those increasing their incomes as they move off benefits.
 
Alex Cunningham: Does the Minister not see any advantage in leaving the door open by amending the Bill to allow for the scheme to be extended at a later stage? As I said in my speech, it will take primary legislation to extend the scheme any further, whereas she could accept an amendment that would mean that the door was open to simple, straightforward regulation instead.
 
Priti Patel: I commend the hon. Gentleman for his tenacity in making that point again, as is absolutely right and proper. I reiterate that the Government are committed to reviewing the scheme, as I have outlined previously in Committee and during today’s debates on new clauses 1 and 2. It has to be right and proper to have that review. Once the scheme has bedded down and we have had the full assessment and evaluation, we will look at all its aspects. I hope that I have given the hon. Gentleman sufficient reassurance. I ask him to withdraw his amendment and Labour Front Benchers to withdraw their new clause.
 

 

Third Reading

Priti Patel: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has been many months in development through consultation, drafting and detailed discussion in Parliament, and I am sure the House will agree that it will leave the Commons in good shape.
 
Before I proceed, I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education who, as Financial Secretary, was responsible for some of the key features of the scheme and introduced the Bill in the House of Commons in June. I spoke on Second Reading as a Back Bencher, and it is an honour for me to appear today as the Minister responsible for the Bill.
 
I welcome this further opportunity to speak on the Bill and to reflect on the important role it will play in the Government’s broader strategy to get people into work. One of our fundamental principles has been that every person who can stand on their own two feet should do so. That means being in work, making their contribution and taking responsibility. We want to empower people in their choices. As a mother myself, I strongly believe that child care costs should not be a barrier to work. Since 2010 we have introduced a comprehensive package of measures to help working families cover nursery costs for their children. The new child care scheme will greatly expand the support we provide to working families towards their child care costs.
 
Even before the financial crisis, there were around 5 million people in the United Kingdom of working age on out-of-work benefits, some 1.4 million of whom have spent the past decade unemployed. The number of households where no one had ever worked almost doubled between 1997 and 2010, so when we took office in 2010 we made getting people back into work one of our key priorities. We can be proud of some major successes. Figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown that unemployment fell by 154,000 to below 1.97 million in the three months to the end of August, the first time it has been below 2 million since 2008. Since 2010, the UK has created over 2 million more jobs for people to go to—the fastest rate of job creation of any major economy, or, as the Financial Times put it in September, more jobs than the rest of the European Union combined. Female participation in the work force is at an all-time high, and we should welcome that.
 
As ever, there is more that can be done. If we had the same levels of men and women participating in the labour market, the OECD says that could lead to an increase in GDP of around 10% by 2030. Survey data from the Department for Education suggest that more than half of mothers would prefer to be in paid employment if they could arrange reliable, convenient, affordable, good quality child care. The Government are therefore taking action to ensure that high quality child care is available and affordable. We recognise that child care costs are a major part of most working families’ budgets so we are putting in place measures to help every working family in the UK with their child care costs.
 
We have almost doubled the amount of child care support available to most middle earners, and we are doing even more for those on low pay. We are already funding 15 hours a week of free child care for every three and four-year-old, funding 15 hours a week of free child care for 40% of two-year-olds, and increasing the child care support for low income families to 85% under universal credit. Now, this scheme will significantly broaden access to child care support. Hundreds of thousands of families who are excluded from the current employer-supported child care scheme will be able to benefit from the scheme, and up to 200,000 self-employed parents will have access to child care support.
 
We have paid particular attention to designing the scheme so that it suits the needs of part-time workers. Parents earning as little as £52 per week—averaged over a quarterly entitlement period, or over a tax year for self-employed parents—will qualify for support.
 
We do not believe, however, that providing direct support to parents is the only way to address the high cost of child care. That is best achieved by supporting the child care sector to increase supply, which will ensure that any increase in demand for child care will be matched by increased supply measures, rather than just increased costs.
 
The latest figures show there are now 100,000 more child care places than there were in 2009. We are making start-up grants available to help people set up new child care businesses. We have made up to 32,000 good and outstanding childminders automatically eligible for early education funding. We are making it simpler and easier for schools and child care providers to work together to increase the amount of child care available on school sites before and after school. Only this year, we have created childminder agencies, which will improve the support available both for childminders and for parents, and simplified existing regulatory frameworks to allow nurseries to expand more easily.
 
The evidence shows that our reforms are having an effect. After 12 years of consistently rising prices, the costs of child care in England have stabilised for the first time. Indeed, the costs of some of the most popular types of child care in England are now falling. Once inflation is taken into account, costs for the majority of parents have actually fallen, which means that more parents are able to access affordable child care and support their families. By contrast, the costs of some types of care have risen in Scotland and Wales, where these reforms do not apply.
 
As we have discussed in previous debates on the Bill, child care costs are not the only pressure on family budgets. We can never forget the impact of the 2008 recession and its effect on incomes for every household.
 
Alex Cunningham: I welcome the fact that prices are coming down and that more places are available, but the vast majority of the new jobs to which the Exchequer Secretary has referred are low-paid, part-time, insecure and involve zero-hours contracts and similar, which do not make anybody’s life easier as they consider care for their children. Perhaps that is why we are seeing an overspend of many millions of pounds in the Government’s social security budget.
 
Priti Patel: I re-emphasise a point I have made consistently throughout the passage of the Bill: the Government’s overall system of child care remains focused on those who are on lower incomes. We are concentrating on supporting families getting into work and ensuring, as we have touched on in previous debates, not only that work pays, but that child care remains focused on those on lower incomes.
 
Living standards—the cash in people’s pockets and what they can buy with it—are perhaps the biggest issue facing British families. The tough decisions we have taken as a Government have a very clear end in mind, which is to help create prosperity and boost living standards. Alongside that, we want to make sure that the Government have the right measures to support working families and households and to ensure that work pays.
 
Since coming to power, this Government have taken decisive action to ease the pressure on households and families. We are providing free school meals for all infant school pupils in reception year and in years 1 and 2. We have increased the personal allowance to £10,000 and in April 2015 it will increase to £10,500. During the course of this Parliament, we have cut the income tax of the typical taxpayer by £805, taking more than 3.2 million individuals out of income tax by 2015-16 and boosting the money that 25 million people take home.
 
Additional measures on living standards include freezing council tax in real terms and cutting the cost of driving by freezing fuel duty until the end of this Parliament, saving a typical motorist £680. We recently announced that the cost of driving licences will also be cut. Ultimately, however, as every family knows, the best way to raise living standards is by being in work, and we are pulling out all the stops to help those who want to work get into work by making work pay and introducing this Bill, which provides important financial measures to support child care.
 
I thank all Members for the opportunity to debate all the issues associated with child poverty as the Bill has passed through the House. Child poverty is an extremely important issue and this Government are fully committed to the goal of ending child poverty in the UK by the end of 2020.
 
Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): As my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said on Report, the Northern Ireland Assembly has already debated the legislative consent motion, which will enable enactment of the legislation in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister accept that there are fewer opportunities to access child care in Northern Ireland and fewer job opportunities? Will she consider allowing the other place to debate the extension of the child care voucher scheme so that it can remain in place while the measures are being implemented and both the scheme and the Bill can run concurrently?
 
Priti Patel: I will come on to Northern Ireland in a moment, because I want to finish addressing child poverty. Our child poverty strategy 2014-17, which was published in June, outlines our plans to tackle the root causes of child poverty, including parents being out of work, low earnings and educational failure. That approach reflects the reality of child poverty today and, importantly, reflects our determination to achieve lasting change to protect the poorest in our society.
 
The evidence is clear that work remains the best route out of poverty, and children are three times as likely to be in poverty if they live in a workless family. That is why we are taking decisive action to make work pay and reform the welfare system. We have touched on universal credit, the child care support we are providing and increasing the national minimum wage.
 
This is a complex, multifaceted problem, and it would be wrong to suggest that there is a silver bullet. We have made good progress, but there is more to do in tackling child poverty. The Bill will support this Government’s efforts to tackle the root causes of one of our greatest social ills.
 
I am grateful to all those who have participated in the debates on the Bill. I welcome the support from both sides of the House for this important new scheme, which marks such an improvement on the current support available to parents. I am particularly delighted that the Northern Ireland Assembly recently voted in favour of a legislative consent motion to enable the scheme to be available to families in Northern Ireland in the same way as it will be to families elsewhere in the UK. That was entirely a matter for the Assembly, which has given the scheme a positive vote of confidence.
 
I understand that the Offices of the First Minister and of the deputy First Minister will consider the impact of the scheme and its interaction with other initiatives in the context of wider work on the development of their own child care strategy, so it would be inappropriate for me to make further comment on those devolved matters. Obviously, that is work in progress.
 
During all stages of the Bill, we have consulted widely on the design of the scheme over the past year. We have listened to feedback from parents, employers, the child care industry and all stakeholders.
 
Following those discussions, we are already making several changes. We are rolling the scheme out to families more quickly. Within a year of its introduction, all families will be able to apply for support, which is significantly faster than the previously announced timetable for the roll-out, of seven years. There is a more generous cap so that families can receive up to £2,000 of Government support per child. We are making the scheme available throughout periods of paid and unpaid parental leave, and we are making changes to the minimum income level to support those in self-employment. We are extending to 14 days the time during which parents can access the scheme before starting work. I have committed to looking at the cap with reference to the costs of caring for disabled children.
 
The scheme will not only deliver valued support to hard-working families, but it will do so in a way that works for parents. It will be a smooth, simple and secure scheme. From the outset, it has been designed to have parents at its heart. Rather than requiring parents to report changes of circumstances in real time, the scheme will be based on quarterly entitlement periods. That will give parents the certainty that they will continue to be eligible for support for three months at a time, regardless of any unexpected changes in their circumstances. For parents to reconfirm for the next quarter will simply take a few clicks through the system that we are designing and setting up. Those are just some of the ways in which we have engaged with stakeholders and, importantly, learned lessons from the experience of tax credits. Our ambition is for the new scheme to represent a real step change in user experience.
 
The scheme will be a vast improvement on the current employer-supported child care scheme, which provides support to a limited number of employees. As well as being available much more widely, it will be better targeted, make payments on a fairer basis—on the number of children, rather than the number of adults—and will be much more efficient. That is why we will close the current scheme to new entrants when the scheme is introduced, although those who already receive support under it can stay in it, if they so choose, for as long as they wish.
 
As a result of the Bill, more working families than ever will be eligible for Government support with their child care costs. Our proposals have been welcomed by families and child care providers around the country. The Bill represents an important part of the Government’s strategy to get people into work, and I commend it to the House.
 

A12/A120 Consultations

Strategic Road Network Consultations

There are two important consultations running at the moment on key strategic road infrastructure improvements - the A12 widening scheme and the upgrading of the A120. Priti has been campaigning to secure new investment in these roads and has welcomed the consultations taking place. Members of the public can review the proposals for the A12 and A120 at the weblinks below, attend consultation events, and respond to the consultation. Feel free to also contact Priti by email to: [email protected] with your views too.

Widening the A12

Upgrading the A120

Your Local Councillors

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