The government is being urged to extend their free childcare to more low income families – which would give mothers and their children better opportunities.
Social mobility in the UK has been described as a stagnant “from birth to work” cycle.
If an individual grows up in poverty or on a low income, it quickly becomes hard to break out of. With 90% of single parents being women (shocker!) and single-parent families being twice as likely to live in poverty than those with two parents – this burden often sits with mothers and their children.
The Social Mobility Committee – which was set up in 2010 to monitor and improve social mobility in the UK - released their State of the Nation 2018-19 report on Tuesday (30 April). It highlighted urgent recommendations on how the government can effectively tackle social inequality in the UK – and extending the number of free childcare hours for low income families is high on their priorities.
As things are, all children between three and four in England are entitled to an average of 15 hours of free childcare per week. Some parents can claim an average of 30 hours a week, if they work over 16 hours per week on the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage. Some two years olds are also eligible for free childcare if their parents earn a combined income below £15,400 a year.
But what about the families who earn just over those thresholds? The housing crisis – which shows absolutely no signs of slowing down – and rise in childcare costs, mean that families are very easily getting trapped. The odds are often against those who are working good jobs with half decent wages – especially when it’s a single parent, which we know is more likely to be a woman.
This is part of the reason why the commission is currently urging the government to extend the current 16 hours limit to 30 hours for all families. It would help alleviate the stress of women finding cheap childcare while trying to work, progress in their career and improve their family’s future.
Although parents are able to get help with childcare costs by applying for Tax-Free Childcare, tax credits, Universal Credit and help while you study – they either need to be out of work or on a very low income, which means that those earning a low or average wage are still struggling with costs.
And the problems around free childcare don’t stop there.
Last week, over 137,000 people signed a petition to review another aspect on the government’s free childcare guidelines. They are calling for the starting age of eligibility, which is currently three years old, to be lowered to nine months - when statutory maternity pay ends.
Harley Cuthbert, who started the petition, said: “It makes more sense to provide this funding from nine months instead of two years. Many working families struggle week to week due to the cost of childcare. You are required to go back to work after a year of maternity pay however many go back after nine months due to funds. Once you go back the majority of your wage goes to childcare and in some cases you are better of not working. This should not be the case.”
Dame Martina Milburn, Chairwoman of the Social Mobility Committee, said she sensed there was now “a real commitment” from the government. Alongside the childcare policy, her report also calls for:
- a”significant increase” in funding for all 16 to 19-year-olds in education, with a special “student premium” for the disadvantaged, and
- the government agreeing to pay the voluntary living wage to all of its employees and contracted workers, including cleaners and catering staff
Education Secretary Damian Hinds has said he welcomed the report but, although Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to tackle the “burning injustice” of social inequality when she entered Downing Street in 2016, things seem to have gone from bad to worse - especially as Brexit has been on the forefront of Westminter minds for the last three years.
The report is being presented to Parliament, but will the government finally take action?
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