Priti Patel supports the Childcare Payments Bill

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): May I say what a pleasure it is to speak in support of this Bill, which I welcome for many reasons, but predominantly for the long overdue support it provides to hard-working parents up and down the country. It shows parents that the Government are on their side as they return to work, fulfil their career aspirations, provide better futures for their families and their children and encounter new opportunities. It is incumbent on the Government to play a positive role in that regard.
I am a parent; my son is five years old. Like so many Members from all parts of the House, I understand the challenges of child care and work-life balance. I also understand that the costs of child care are far too high—to be fair, that was true under the previous Government as well. It is about time that we all faced up to that. Rather than throwing political brickbats across the House, we must start putting across a positive message about supporting hard-working parents and facilitating affordable child care so that everyone benefits, including children. Rather than being partisan and party political, we should realise that this is about children and ensuring that their futures are secure and that parents have access to good-quality, affordable child care. Parents need to feel comfortable that they are putting their children in the right environment—one in which their children will flourish, feel safe and be stimulated.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about the need for flexibility. Does she agree that, for parents with disabled children, the need to extend that provision through to late teens is very important? The provision to extend the scheme up to 17 is particularly relevant for those families.
Priti Patel: I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. He makes a powerful point. When we consider child care and child care payments, it is important to understand that this one size does not fit all—we all have different child care needs. All our children are different; every family is different. The Bill moves us away from the notion that children are children and everybody’s situation is similar. We must support families through all sorts of personal circumstances, some of which are challenging and very difficult. We know that both as constituency MPs and as parents.
One of the biggest challenges and choices that parents face is how to raise their children, so the Bill is not only timely but politically significant—we have not had such a measure before. We live in a society in which the pressures on parents are absolutely enormous, whether because of employment, changing jobs, the labour market, social mobility or the fact that we live in an international and global world. Many companies have different expectations of their employees, but employees are parents, too.
Sarah Newton: Does my hon. Friend agree that caring for older relatives is another huge pressure on families? It is so important that the benefits of this Bill will be available to those on carer’s allowance. So many people fall out of work because it is too difficult to work while managing caring responsibilities.
Priti Patel: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which relates to my earlier comments on everybody’s circumstances being different and the flexibilities outlined in the Bill. The ability to reach out to those with different circumstances and backgrounds is paramount. The Bill demonstrates a depth of understanding of the challenges facing families and households. When both parents work, it is difficult to decide between the costs of child care, which can be in excess of £10,000 a year, and spending time raising children themselves.
We should remember that child care costs vary across the country and that no generic or standardised level or rate exists. Costs are naturally high in London, the south-east and the east. Many working households spend a lot of their income on child care, partly because people do not necessarily live in the conventional family set-ups in which grandparents might be around the corner and able to offer support. I must be perfectly honest that I rely on such a situation. I tell everybody that I am blessed and that I can do this job only because I have outstanding family support to look after my son.
Child care decisions are often made on cost grounds and the Bill goes a long way to reflect that. Over the past decade, the average hourly cost of child care has increased by more than 67%, which is almost two and half times higher than the CPI rate over the same period. The pay of parents in England will vary depending on what they do. In London, pay levels are slightly higher than elsewhere, but many parents pay hundreds of pounds a week to some child care providers, which means that their families are under pressure and more often than not—we have not discussed this—that pressure ends up on working mothers. They are the ones who sacrifice their careers or put them on hold because child care costs can be so high that they have to decide whether going out to work or staying at home to look after their children is more financially expedient. I have much sympathy with those mothers. Many of my constituents with successful professional careers that they want to continue inform me of the pressures and challenges that they face, including the high costs of child care and commuting costs. Essex is not that far from central London, but most of my constituents and others across the county work in London. They are on a treadmill day in, day out. They face pressures and costs and feel as if they have no choice. If people feel that they have to stay at home, it becomes harder for them to re-enter the work force, which is another reason the Bill is so important. It helps mothers in particular to meet their aspirations, which we should all welcome and support.
The Government deserve credit for recognising the pressures, in addition to soaring child care costs, that families and mothers face and the impact of those pressures on families. As with so many other issues, the Labour party ignored that when it was in government. We have heard lots of rhetoric today, but the reality is that it is difficult, a challenge and a balance. It is easy for the Opposition to talk about the Government today, but we have to remember that the economic policies of the past—uncontrolled public spending—hampered the economy instead of helping families. When families needed help, they were hurt. We know about the negative impact that the downturn and its economic legacy has had on households, so now is the right time to focus on support for hard-working families. The Bill is about support for child care costs, but we want to put an end to the shameful past and what parents had to deal with and to look forward.
As we heard from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the Government have gone a long way to bring in positive and proactive measures to help hard-working households: cutting income tax bills, abolishing Labour’s jobs tax; reducing fuel duty; and supporting private business. That applies particularly to my constituency, where SMEs employ 85% of my constituents. We need the private sector and SMEs to be successful to continue to create more jobs. A million new jobs have been created since 2010. The measures are positive and bring a new dynamic to the employment market. At the same time, low earners have been given support with child care costs, including free child care places for some 40% of two-year-olds. Those are the proactive measures that make a difference to middle and low-income families.
As a Conservative, I instinctively believe that the Government should not only support families, but also help parents to make choices about working arrangements, which is why the Bill is so positive and proactive. Families want to be empowered by Governments to make the right choices for themselves. The Bill helps families to make such choices by alleviating some of the financial pressures caused by child care costs. This package of support will help women who want to continue to work to do so. We are already seeing record numbers of women in work and the Bill will help those who have established a career—or those who are just starting out after having taken time off to bring up their children—to continue to develop and to advance in their profession.
The £2,000 a year of support for families is a substantial amount for the Chancellor to find and should be put in the right context. It has been made possible only because of the controls that have been placed on spending and the reductions in the deficit, which the Labour party has opposed. This Government is on the side of hard-working families. The Bill will benefit not only my constituents but working families across the country through sensible and practical measures. I welcome it as a positive way of supporting families and working women.
6.17 pm

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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

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