Clause 2 - Qualifying childcare

Part of Childcare Payments Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 21 Hydref 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Heath David Heath Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Somerton and Frome 10:30, 21 Hydref 2014

I want to raise one point briefly with the Minister. She knows that I am concerned about access to child care in rural areas. Of course my constituency plays a large part in that, but there are many constituencies around the country in which it is extremely physically difficult to get to child care provision. The problem is of course that there needs to be a critical mass for a nursery to be viable, and in many rural areas there  simply is not the population to support a multiplicity of nurseries. This means that people have to travel a reasonable distance, which can often be extremely difficult. I very often say to the House that my village has one bus per week. I am not sure whether anyone believes me, but it is true. If people do not come back within two hours, it will be a week before they can return, if they do not have private transport. That is an illustration of how difficult it is.

Travel is also expensive. I am concerned that in some rural areas a further barrier is the cost of getting children to the place where child care is provided. This can be a significant part of the total cost. I ask the Minister simply whether it is possible to bundle up some of the access costs into the qualifying child care regulations for those people whose transport costs form a significant part of their child care costs. That would make a real difference, and I ask the Minister to take this away and ask her officials to at least look at it. It is entirely proper that the cost of getting a child to the nursery be part of the cost of providing child care. It will not be easy to find the funds to cover these costs, but we should consider this, with the provision that there is some regulation regarding what would or would not qualify. The total must still fall within the cap. I see no reason why the total should exceed the cap, because the cost of child care in rural areas is generally not at London prices—there is certainly no need for it to be at London prices—so I do not think that this would approach the £10,000 cap.

Help with transport costs would be a significant boost to people who are in great need of this provision on two grounds. The first is that it is often more difficult to find employment in rural areas, and the second is that the dangers of lack of socialisation and isolation are greater for young children in areas where they are not regularly in contact with other children. As I say, I do not expect the Minister to say, “Yes, of course, that is a good idea and I shall implement it immediately.” However, I request that she ask her officials to look at whether it is possible for the regulations to meet what I believe to be a modest request.