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Baroness Kath Pinnock writes…Flexible childcare: Another Lib Dem victory

by derekdeedman on 5 February, 2016

By Baroness Kath Pinnock | Thu 4th February 2016 – 5:55 pm

Who is going to look after the children?

One of the biggest worries for working parents is finding high quality and affordable childcare. It is also one of the biggest barriers, especially for women, to getting back into work.

So, when the chance came to ease those worries by improving what childcare the Government were offering, we grabbed it.

Liberal Democrats, of course, recognise that childcare is a critical issue for parents of pre-school children and successfully introduced childcare for two year olds from disadvantaged families. An increase in hours available for all 3 and 4 year olds was in our Manifesto. So we were in broad agreement with the Government Bill to increase the free childcare offer to 30 hours per week during school times.

Throughout the Bill we argued that this was a great opportunity to extend the free hours to school holidays and outside the normal school day. Parents and providers told us that the school holidays often turned out to be a nightmare to organise and could cost a small fortune. Parents who worked non-standard hours in a great variety of jobs such as nursing, cleaning, social care, and catering told us that they ended up paying for childcare when parents who worked during the school day were able to have free childcare.

We introduced an amendment to the Bill to enable the free childcare to be on offer in holidays and during non-school hours which we called flexible childcare. We pushed the amendment to the vote which we won. When the Bill went to the Commons for consideration, the Conservatives immediately axed the amendment while saying they supported the idea in principle. So the first step was made towards achieving our goal.

On Tuesday, the Bill came back to the Lords for a final say on the changes that were made in the Commons. Of course, we persisted with our aim of getting a better deal for many, many parents. We made it clear that we were not willing to accept that our flexible childcare approach should be so readily ditched.

The consequence is that the Conservative Minister in the Lords committed to accepting the principle of flexible childcare. He also agreed to include it in the Regulations which is tantamount to it being in the Bill itself. Half of the 8 early pilots of the scheme will trial a flexible childcare offer and, crucially, £4 million of Government funding is being granted for providers to test out flexible childcare.

Finally, we had a serious response to our arguments that parents needed childcare to be flexible.

One small win for us. One major win for parents and their children.

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