One of the most positive elements of the significant increase in employment since 2010, has been the fact that there is now a record number of women in work. While this is encouraging progress, there is more we can do, particularly when it comes to ensuring that women who choose to start a family do not face barriers in coming back to work.
Part of this problem has been the cost of childcare. Many women who have taken a break in their career to have children, find that the cost of childcare precludes them from re-entering the workplace when they feel ready.
The Government is taking action to address this issue, and last month rolled out nationally 30 hours of free childcare for eligible parents of 3 and 4 year olds. At the moment all 3 and 4-year-olds in England are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year, which is often taken as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year. The new 30 hours free childcare doubles this allowance for eligible parents, saving families on average up to £5,000 a year per child. The offer is already being delivered in 12 early delivery areas across the country, with over 15,000 children benefitting from a place.
The evidence shows these additional hours are delivering real benefits for families, taking huge pressures off families financially, reducing parental stress and allowing them to spend more quality time with family as a result.
To be eligible for 30 hours free childcare, a parent (and their partner if they have one must): be in work - or getting parental leave, sick leave or annual leave, and each be earning at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week (this is £120 if over 25 years old). I encourage parents in South Shropshire to review whether they meet the eligibility criteria, which can be found at www.gov.uk/help-with-childcare-costs/free-childcare-and-education-for-2-to-4-year-olds. You can also call the Childcare Service Helpline on 0300 123 4097. If you missed the application period for this term, you can register before 31st December for the term starting in January.
By 2020, the Government will be investing £6 billion every year in childcare – more than ever before. This includes an additional £1 billion per year to fund the free childcare offers, including £300 million to raise the national hourly funding rate to local authorities.
This additional support for families will help many people in Shropshire, and help ensure the cost of childcare is not a barrier to women re-entering the workplace.