20,000 single parents will be excluded from extended hours childcare under plans set out in the new Childcare Bill.
At Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families, we're deeply concerned that the Childcare Bill (which reached the Report Stage in the House of Commons on Monday) will be a further barrier for those with childcare commitments who want to work.
As recently as last May the Conservative Party pledged in its General Election manifesto that 30 hours of free childcare would be available to all working parents of three and four-year-olds.
However, the eligibility criteria has been increasingly tightened in recent months, first for parents to work eight hours or more, while the new proposals now require parents to work for a minimum of 16 hours paid at National Minimum Wage.
And what seems like a small change by the government is likely to have a significant impact on single parent families. Gingerbread analysis shows that if the Childcare Bill was implemented today, around 20,000 working single parents of three and four-year-olds would miss out. This undermines the Government's commitment to 'make work pay'.
The lack of available and affordable childcare means that balancing work and parenting is already a challenge, and the new Bill creates a further hurdle. Jessica, a self-employed single parent with three children, said:
"I pay for babysitters left, right and centre...It is expensive. It's a case of weighing up if it's worth earning something rather than earning nothing.
"I had a situation recently where my little boy was very ill. I phoned up to say I couldn't go to my class and the lady who runs the studio just said to me, "Well, you've got people booked in. You need to be here." So I felt like...if I don't go then I'm going to lose the work, so then I had to get my mum to come. Fortunately my mum's local and she's very understanding and very helpful.
"I'd like to be a successful business person, but at the moment my focus is my three children. I have to fit work around them rather than fitting them around my work."
Jessica's case is far from unique. Time and again, single parents tell us about crippling childcare costs and a lack of availability. So it's disappointing that, having initially committed to funding 30 hours of free childcare for all working parents, the government is increasingly putting barriers in place that will ultimately prevent more single parents from being able to increase their working hours.
What Gingerbread wants to see is the government take into consideration the needs of Britain's two million single parents, and show that it's on the side of working people. There's considerable support across parliament to make certain groups exempt in exceptional circumstances, such as the victims of domestic violence, and we'd like to see the same for those who are in training and attempting to upskill in order to move into employment. This means exempting single parents from the 16-hour commitment.