Few people know the pressure of caring responsibilities more than single parents, especially when it comes to finding the time and energy to progress in your professional life at the same time. I, like many other single parents, perform that balancing act of juggling my career with caring for my children day in, day out.
As a single mum minister, I know only too well how challenging being a single parent in employment can be. Just last month I had a parliamentary business clash with a school play, not to mention the daily search for socks, helping with homework and planning dinners that fill my already lengthy to-do list.
As minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, where I have responsibility for government policy on social mobility, youth and progression, I am determined to ensure the barriers to work for single parents - which they have been facing for too long - are fully broken down. A parent in a steady job, who can strike a work-life-balance suited to their specific needs, not only ensures financial stability for the family but also provides a fantastic role model for their children.
Barriers to work, like high childcare costs and inflexible working hours, have put pressure on the labour market with many single parents who want to work being denied that opportunity. Progress is being made to change that.
I’m proud we have announced that we will soon be supporting single parents on Universal Credit much further by paying childcare upfront and increasing the amount someone can be paid to over £950 for one child and over £1,600 for two children – an increase of around 50 per cent. This will give thousands of mums and dads the financial freedom to move back into work or, vitally, increase the number of working hours they can take on if they already have a job. Parents already working at least 16 hours a week are now also in line for 30 hours of funded childcare for every single child over the age of nine months old.
More broadly, I am pleased the Department for Education has spent over £3.5 billion in each of the past three years on its early education entitlements and intends to continue this support. In the 2021 Spending Review, the Government increased funding: £160 million for 2022/23, £200 million for 2023/24, and £170 million for 2024/25, compared to the 2021/22 financial year. This allows local authorities to increase childcare providers' hourly rates and reflects cost pressures and changes in the number of eligible children anticipated at the time of the Spending Review.
For 2023/24, the DfE is increasing the minimum funding floor for the three- and four-year-old rate to £4.87 per hour, with local authorities in Sussex receiving at least a 1 per cent increase. There will also be a maximum increase of 4.9 per cent for the three- and four-year-old rate and up to 10 per cent for the two-year-old rate.
Moreover, there will be an additional investment of £10 million in Maintained Nursery School supplementary funding, with a minimum hourly rate of £3.80 per hour and a maximum hourly rate of £10 for all local authorities in 2023/24, with special arrangements for the most affected local authorities. I welcome this.
Regarding parental leave, maternity leave entitlement in the UK is one of the most generous in the world, with employed women entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, of which 39 are paid. Furthermore, new fathers are eligible to take two weeks of paid paternity leave within the first eight weeks following the birth or adoption placement. Eligible employed fathers also have other entitlements to balance work with childcare, including paid annual leave, unpaid parental leave and the right to request flexible working.
You may also be interested to know Government has consulted on reforming both parental leave and pay and the legal framework to request flexible working (where employees can request a change to their hours, pattern, or place of work). In its response to the consultation on making flexible working the default, the Government announced changes including making the right to request flexible working a "day-one" right and allowing two statutory requests for flexible working in any 12-month period (rather than one).
Please be assured, I believe the Government's reforms to childcare will help support families with some of the most significant costs they face and will help ensure that parents who would like to return to work are able to do so. Whether it is the support we offer from government or the changes employers make in the workplace, every small step forward is progress for single parents right across the UK. Our future depends on our children. It’s only right their mums and dads are given the chance to thrive.