MORE than a quarter of a million families in Scotland are to miss out on one of the UK government’s flagship schemes to support working parents.
The tax-free child-care voucher scheme was one of the big-ticket items from the Budget aimed at promoting work and economic growth.
Under the plans, a couple could receive up to £1,200 per child, representing up to 20 per cent of nursery costs. Over time, it will replace existing employer-supported vouchers.
But tight rules mean 41 per cent of families north of the Border will miss out, compared with 43 per cent for the UK as a whole.
According to the House of Commons library, 1,775,000 families in UK lose out because they have one child, while there are 1,581,000 families with just one parent working. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are 7.8 million families in UK with children, so the percentage is 25 per cent.
When Prime Minister David Cameron launched the scheme, he said it was an attempt to support families who wanted to work: it was seen as an attempt to make his government appear more female-friendly.
Concerns were raised at the time, but the full extent of how Scots will miss out has only now been revealed. The benefit is not available where both parents work but there is only one child, and the figures show this affects 146,000 families in Scotland. It is also not available where only one parent works – adding a further 112,000 families.
Airdrie and Shotts Labour MP Pamela Nash said: “The fact we are looking at around a quarter of million Scottish families, or two in five families in Scotland, who are at risk of losing out, the question of how thoroughly thought-through this scheme has been needs to be asked.
“It could be that, under these new plans, the government are further punishing a family, for example where one of the parents has lost their job or received a cut in pay and conditions.
“Child-care costs are one of the biggest burdens for all families with young children, and the government should be trying to accommodate as many families as possible and not leaving such a huge group behind.”
A Treasury document spelled out how the UK government believed stay-at-home parents needed less state support than those at work. It said: “Working families struggling with child-care costs or families where parents want to go to work but can’t afford to are in greater need of state support than families where one parent stays home to look after children full time.”
A Treasury spokeswoman said: “We want parents to be able to choose whether to go out to work or not, but at the moment too many families find paying for child care tough and are often stopped from working the hours they’d like. The new system of tax-free child care worth up to £1,200 per child will be open to around five times as many families as the current Employer Supported Childcare system.”
The Scottish Government has also moved to extend child care. It means Scottish three- and four-year-olds will be entitled to 600 hours of funded early learning and child care.
Case study: ‘What incentive is there for mothers to go back to work?’
Lucinda Greig, 45, took the decision to stay at home rather than return to work after the birth of her son Tommy.
She and husband Stuart jointly decided that, until their son was three and at nursery, Mrs Greig would bring him up rather than pay for child care.
However, under the changes in the system of support for child care, she would not be eligible for any financial help if she did return to work, because she has only one child.
Mrs Greig, from Buckingham Terrace, Edinburgh, said she thought staying at home to raise her son, who is now two, was the most valuable way she could spend her time.
“My husband and I decided that I wouldn’t go back to work and instead bring Tommy up, because it was the best thing for our family,” she said.
“I was working part-time at the Royal Scottish Academy [in Edinburgh] as well as a photographer and it would not have made sense to try and juggle it all.”
She said women needed a highly paid job to make it worth their while returning to work. “Child care is so expensive and there was no way I was going to put him in a nursery while I worked but only managed to just about break even,” she said.
“School will come around so fast that I want to spend as much time as I can with Tommy when he’s so young.”
However, Mrs Greig, said the new policy was unfair on mothers with only the one child who wanted to return to work.
“If they are not getting any financial help from the government, then that’s pretty rubbish,” she said.
“What incentive is that for those mothers with one child who want to go back to work?”
Mrs Greig, who is planning to work part-time as a photographer when Tommy starts nursery, said she thought the role of mothers was generally undervalued. “I think other mothers value each other because they realise just how tricky it can be – but also just how rewarding it can be.
“There doesn’t seem to be any recognition that making the decision to raise your own child is a big commitment – but, by the same token, if a mother with one child does want to go back to the office, there is no help there either.”