With three children of my own, please be assured that I very much realise how important this issue is.
Regarding childcare provision, the Government is committed to improving the cost, choice, and availability of childcare. The Department for Education (DfE) continues to look at ways to make childcare more affordable and to encourage families to use the Government-funded support to which they are entitled.
The DfE has spent over £3.5 billion in each of the past three years on its early education entitlements, and the Government will continue to support families with their childcare costs.
In the 2021 Spending Review, the Government announced additional funding of £160 million for the 2022/23 financial year, £180 million for the 2023/24 financial year, and £170 million for the 2024/25 financial year, compared to the 2021/22 financial year. This is for local authorities to increase hourly rates paid to childcare providers and reflects cost pressures and changes in the number of eligible children anticipated at the time of the Spending Review.
For the 2022/23 financial year, the DfE has increased the hourly funding rates for all local authorities by 21p an hour for the two-year-old entitlement and, for the vast majority of areas, by 17p an hour for the three and four-year-old entitlement.
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.
Paternity Leave entitlement in the UK enables eligible employed fathers to take two weeks of paid 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.
Shared Parental Leave allows eligible parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay in the first year.
The Government is committed to making it easier for fathers to take Paternity Leave. In 2019, the Government consulted on high-level options for reforming parental leave and pay. It is currently considering responses to the consultation and will respond in due course.
Regarding flexible working, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to work arrangements. The Government supports flexible working in all its forms, where it has benefits for, and is agreed between, both individuals and employers.
The existing legal framework provides a statutory right to request flexible working, where employees can request a change to their hours, pattern or place of work. Between September and December 2021, the Government consulted on changes to this framework to better support the uptake of flexible working arrangements and will respond in due course.