Taking an innovative approach to barriers to unemployment
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By Marie Marin
CEO, Employers For Childcare
Back in the late 1990s, responding to the barrier a lack of affordable childcare presents to working parents, I developed a community project encouraging employers to implement family friendly policies. From this project, reliant on funding, Employers For Childcare has grown to be a completely self-financing social enterprise, contributing 100% of profits to our charity supporting parents to get into and stay in work. Having been a working mother of two boys I identify with the challenges and frustrations experienced by the thousands of parents our charity supports. Although my sons are now grown, and childcare is no longer a personal concern, access to appropriate childcare for all remains an issue close to my heart.
In supporting parents to get into, and stay in, the workforce it can help to reduce poverty and inequality across the UK.
Childcare as an economic issue
That is why our ethos is to address childcare, not only as a social issue, but as a labour market and economic issue. We do this in several ways, providing immediate support and assistance to families at the same time as understanding and addressing root causes and fundamental issues. It was important to me, from the beginning, that our charity became part of the solution, not simply highlighting problems. Everything we do is underpinned by our ongoing research which we share with policy makers, politicians, third sector organisations, employers and parents.
And what have we found? Well we know that an inability to pay for childcare is a key contributing factor to poverty and inequality. In 2017, our research with parents in Northern Ireland revealed almost one third of households were paying more for childcare than on their mortgage or rent. Close to half of parents reported their household had had to ‘go without’, or cut back on another expense, in order to meet their childcare costs. It isn’t acceptable that some working families struggle to heat their homes, or are reliant on foodbanks, in order to meet their childcare bill.
Having found that many families were unaware of the support they are entitled to, we established a Family Benefits Advice Service operating a helpline offering free, impartial and confidential advice on childcare and financial support available to parents – right across the UK. As well as the helpline, our Advisors offer community and employer outreach, delivering 458 advice and information sessions last year.
In 2016/17, we identified collective savings of over £14.8 million for the parents we supported – with an average saving for working parents of £4,130. This is money these families are entitled to, but were unaware they could be claiming and makes a huge difference to them.
Not content to accept the status-quo in terms of the support available to working parents, we address policy directly and lobby Government on childcare, family and work-related issues. We are currently calling on the UK Government to keep Childcare Vouchers, a valuable form of financial support to working families, open to new entrants, beyond the planned closure date of October. We have prepared briefings for MPs and suggested ways in which Government can keep Childcare Vouchers open, alongside Tax-Free Childcare, within their funding envelope. Our work continues….
We are in the process of expanding our social enterprise, developing a new project comprising an indoor activity centre which will be inclusive and accessible for all, particularly addressing the requirements of families who have a child with additional needs. Hopefully I can provide an update on progress at September’s conference!