The Budget contained some noteworthy announcements that will help children and families, most significantly an expansion of free childcare, however these announcements will not stop child poverty rising.
- The extension of the 30-hour childcare offer to children aged 9 months to 2 years will help families on a range of incomes.
- Wrap-around childcare for children in primary school has the potential to open up job opportunities for parents previously restricted by school hours.
- The changes to childcare in UC are welcome: parents will not have to pay childcare costs upfront and the childcare cap will rise.
However, we know from our work with second earners that the barriers to working for primary carers of children are significant and wide-ranging, and more will be needed if the chancellor is serious about encouraging women back into employment in large numbers.
- Instead of addressing these barriers, the government has decided to ramp up conditionality requirements for primary carers of children in families claiming UC, despite these families already having one parent in work.
- The intention to toughen up the sanctions regime, together with significant changes to the assessment process for health-related benefits which risk placing unsuitable conditionality requirements on claimants with a disability or health condition, is particularly worrying.
The government must also recognise that some parents and carers are not in a position to work due to their circumstances. This might include caring for a very young child, caring for a child with a disability or a health condition, or because they have a disability or health condition themselves. These families were forgotten in this Budget. As the chancellor outlined, early years childcare is the first step in a child’s education. But because of the restrictive eligibility rules for free places which require parents to work, children in families not in a position to work will not reap the educational advantages of attending early years childcare.
We need bold action from the government if we are to tackle rising levels of child poverty in the UK. Increasing child benefit, expanding free school meals, and abolishing the two-child limit and the benefit cap would immediately lift a million children out of poverty as well as ensuring that all families, working or not, are provided with a basic level of support to help with the costs of raising a child.