Thank you for writing to me about the March of the Mummies campaign and support for working parents.
Following other correspondence from constituents expressing their views about these matters, I wrote to the Department for Education requesting a formal government response.
A redacted copy of the response that I received from Claire Coutinho MP, Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, is enclosed, for your information, immediately below this email.
With best wishes.
Jonathan Lord MP
Member of Parliament for Woking
Thank you for your email of 23 December about the March of the Mummies campaign and support for working parents.
May I begin by thanking [your constituent] for raising [their] concerns regarding childcare, parental leave and flexible working. I will address each of the points raised in the email in turn.
Firstly, the government is committed to improving the cost, choice, and availability of childcare. We are currently exploring a wide range of options to make childcare more accessible and affordable for parents. Earlier this year, we announced measures to increase take-up of childcare support and reduce the costs and bureaucracy facing providers. This includes launching two consultations, one to reform the staff-to-child ratios required in early years settings and to make explicit the requirement of supervision of children whilst eating, and another to reform how early years funding is distributed so that the system is fair and effective. These plans give providers more flexibility and autonomy and ensure families can access government support to save them money on their childcare bills.
We recognise the role childcare plays in helping parents to work. All children aged 3 and 4 can access 15 hours of free childcare a week and we have doubled this for 3- and 4-year-olds in families where parents work. We have invested more than £3.5 billion in each of the last three years to deliver our early education entitlements.
Furthermore, we know the sector is facing economic challenges, similar to the challenges being faced across the economy. We have already announced additional funding of £160 million in 2022–23, £180 million in 2023–24 and £170 million in 2024–25, compared to the 2021–22 financial year, for local authorities to increase hourly rates paid to childcare providers.
For 2022–23 we have increased the hourly funding rates for all local authorities by 21p an hour for the 2-year-old entitlement and, for the vast majority of areas, by 17p an hour for the 3- and 4-year-old entitlement. To maximise funding reaching the front line we require local authorities to pass on to providers at least 95% of their government funding for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Our parental leave and pay policies support the participation and progression of parents, especially mothers in the labour market, ensuring it is fair and works for parents. As mentioned in [your constituent’s email], pregnant women (within 11 weeks of their due date) and new mothers are entitled to take up to 52 weeks of leave (this is a ‘day one’ right and there is no qualifying period of service) and up to 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay (if they are eligible for pay). This is nearly three times the minimum required by the European Union which requires member states to provide 14 weeks of paid Maternity Leave.
The introduction of Shared Parental Leave and Pay in 2015 has given parents much more choice and flexibility – allowing them to design a pattern of work and care that is best for their family and circumstances. I recognise that culture change is needed to deliver behavioural change in this area, and the government is committed to looking at what the barriers are in this country and why people may not be utilising the scheme.
In 2019, for instance, the government consulted on high-level options and principles for reforming the parental leave and pay system to enable parents to balance the gender division of parental leave. We are also carrying out an evaluation of the Shared Parental Leave and Pay scheme and, as part of this exercise, have undertaken a large-scale representative survey which sought views from over 3,000 parents to obtain up-to-date information on their views on a number of parental leave and entitlements. We look forward to issuing the findings from both pieces of work in due course.
In addition, we have developed an online tool to make it easier for parents to check eligibility for Shared Parental Leave and Pay and plan their leave and pay. The tool translates a lot of the detailed rules of the scheme into a simple and quick process and is available from the GOV.UK pages on Shared Parental Leave and Pay at: tinyurl.com/YFJEV9JR.
Finally, the government recognises the benefits of flexible working to both individuals and businesses, where arrangements are agreed by both sides. Current legislation allows all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer to make a statutory request to change the hours, timing or location of their work. In September 2021, the government published a post implementation review of this legislation which found that in most cases (83%), where a statutory request is made, the request is accepted. The review also found that reported availability of flexible working is high among both employees (80%) and employers (96%).
Nevertheless, we want to ensure the legislative framework remains fit for purpose. In 2021, the government consulted on measures that would further support the uptake of flexible working arrangements, including whether to extend the right to request flexible working to employees from their first day of employment. The consultation is now closed, having received over 1,600 responses. We will respond shortly.
The government is also pleased to be supporting the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill introduced by Yasmin Qureshi MP, which passed second reading on 28 October.
Thank you for writing on this important matter. I hope [your constituents] will find this reply useful.
Claire Coutinho MP
Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing