Government outlines plans for working families in Queen’s Speech

The Government has promised measures for working families in the Queen’s Speech with an Employment Bill which provides for neonatal leave, carer’s leave, a new childcare fund and a  consultation on default flexible working.

Caring for an elderly relative

 

The Government has announced measures on carer’s leave and to encourage flexible working as part of the Queen’s Speech.

Apart from another pledge to raise the National Insurance threshold and increase the National Living Wage [which now appears to be conditional on the economy continuing to prosper], the Speech was light on detail of what the Government would do with regard to helping working families.

In its election manifesto, the Conservative party said it would allow for a week’s unpaid leave for carers and one billion pounds in funding for wraparound childcare [before and after school]. Although there was no mention of childcare in the Speech, the accompanying briefing notes on a new Employment Bill mention “a new £1 billion fund to help create more high quality childcare”.

Employment rights have also been a concern after Brexit.  It was confirmed yesterday that the UK’s Brexit deal will include a clause to hand the lower courts powers to overturn European Court of Justice rulings. The Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) looks set to give British courts the power to rule on existing EU case law, including holiday entitlement, sick leave and maximum working hours.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said the WAB would be a “key test” for the Government, claiming there are “many within his cabinet who see Brexit as a way to rip up workers’ rights”. She warned working people to  “check the small print before trusting this government’s promises”.

In the notes on its Employment Bill, the Government says it will protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU,  promote fairness in the workplace, “striking the right balance between the flexibility that the economy needs and the security that workers deserve”,  strengthen workers’ ability to get redress for poor treatment by creating a new, single enforcement body, introduce better support for working families and build on existing employment law with measures that protect those in low-paid work and the gig economy.

Some of the main features of the Bill will include introducing a new right for all workers to request a more predictable contract, extending redundancy protections to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination allowing parents to take extended leave for neonatal care;  a week’s leave for unpaid carers and, subject to consultation, a pledge to make flexible working the default unless employers have good reason not to.

Meanwhile, a Government report published today shows uptake of childcare has remained broadly stable in the last year.  Levels of uptake depend on the age of children. There is high take-up for children aged three and four who are covered by the 30 hours ‘free’ childcare initiative.  The Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents shows 64% of children aged 0 to 4 received formal childcare in 2019 and that receipt of formal childcare rose with age, being used by 11% of 0 year olds, 36% of one year olds, 57% of two year olds, 84% of three year olds and 93% of four year olds.

The figures also show that 74% of children living in the least deprived areas received formal childcare, compared to 57% of children living in the most deprived areas. Childcare campaigners have called for increased and better targeting funding to ensure all children have access to quality childcare.

The report also shows that, although more mothers stated that reliable childcare helped them go to work [69% compared to 63% the year before] the percentage of mothers of children under five who were in work in 2019 was more or less the same as in 2018 [62% compared to 61% in 2018].



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