Change is needed to help working families

Many working families feel under pressure because the systems they deal with haven’t yet caught up with the reality of modern family life.

Mums and dads tell me that they struggle to balance work and spending time with their children, that childcare provision isn’t as affordable or available as they need it to be, and often that they feel caring for children is not a shared burden but one which is too heavily borne by one parent.

We need to modernise and improve our approach to family life, to relieve the pressures on working parents. We should do it not just because hundreds of thousands of people in Britain would benefit, and it’s the fair thing to do, but also because good work and family policies are good for Britain. The more people who are in work, the more tax revenue coming in to the Exchequer and the lower our benefits bill.

What’s more (and this is obvious), stressed, frustrated employees aren’t good for business or productivity; and stressed, frustrated parents aren’t good for children. Britain succeeds when working families succeed.

The truth is that family life has changed dramatically over the last 20 to 30 years. There are more women in work and fathers have become more involved in family life. Seven in ten younger working fathers now regularly drop off their kids at school, for example, and many want to spend more time with their children. My Dad tells me that, 30 years ago, it was thought of as a bit strange to see a man pushing a buggy down the road – now it’s commonplace.

Many modern families, with both parents in full or part-time work, struggle to cope with the demands of juggling work and children. Half of parents say that the current way they organise work and care is through ‘necessity rather than choice’.

The lack of affordable childcare and a place shortage means many families can’t get decent childcare. Childcare costs have risen by 30% since 2010, while available childcare places have plummeted by over 40,000.

Also, our system of parental leave restricts parents’ choices about how to organise work and care. The Government’s new shared parental leave is about to come in, but take up is expected to be minimal because it doesn’t go far enough to recognise what families need, with no extra help for families to spend time together with a new baby. And the businesses who are going further to help working fathers take more leave are receiving no support from government.

Change is needed. First we need more affordable, high-quality childcare, so that no parent who wants to work can’t. My party have pledged to help families with the cost of childcare by extending free childcare from 15 to 25 hours a week for working parents of three and four year olds.

We’ll also tackle the shortage of decent childcare places – providing an additional 50,000 childcare places by ensuring that Sure Start Children’s Centres are using their buildings either to offer childcare directly or allowing local providers to use their premises.

Second, we need to allow new dads to play a larger role in their newborn’s life in those early, precious weeks. The last Labour government introduced a right to paternity leave and this week my party announced that we will support new dads through a doubling of paternity leave, to four weeks, and an increase in paternity pay to at least £260 a week.