|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining these regulations so clearly. As he has said, the "parent" Act for these regulations before us tonight is the Tax Credits Act 1999. It will come as no surprise to the noble Lord to hear that we continue to have concerns about the Act, especially as regards the way in which it works in relation to childcare provision, which is the subject of the regulations before us.
These provisions do not treat families fairly. Some better off families receive more help than poorer families. For example, the measure fails to take into account the presence of a second adult, except, that is, for the purposes of reducing the credit. The Christian Action Research and Education Organisation states,
Working families' tax credit also penalises two parent but single income families because, unlike lone parents, they do not qualify for the tax credit. No account is taken of the cost of bringing up children at home while tax credits are given to lone parents who employ another person to look after their children. A policy which discriminates against couples in this way is hardly conducive to stable two-parent families. It also has the ludicrous effect of disadvantaging mothers who look after their own children while rewarding mothers who look after their neighbours' children. This will penalise excellent, informal family arrangements and will institutionalise childcare. The whole system of WFTC has a built-in incentive not to care for one's children at home. It positively invites parents and grannies to register to look after other people's children rather than those of their own family.
As I understand the position, nannies comprise the largest group of child carers in the country, and under the system parents do not qualify for tax credits if a nanny looks after the children within the security of their own home.
The statutory instrument sets out an incredibly bureaucratic system of regulations. They appear unnecessarily complex compared with the provisions which apply to a more vulnerable age group; that is, children under the age of eight. I cannot understand why it is that parents of children who are under eight years of age can claim tax credit where the carer is a registered child minder under a perfectly respected and well understood local authority registration scheme and why it is that the scheme before us today is so necessary.
In another place when these regulations were debated the Minister was not entirely clear in her responses to questions raised. I would therefore like to ask the Minister whether it is the case that the accredited organisations will only be expected to make criminal record checks on potential childcare providers, rather than be required to do so?
It is also not clear from what was said in another place, nor from the regulations before us, who in practice will substitute for the Secretary of State and be responsible for accreditation of organisations, appointing awarding panels, monitoring health and safety and the granting and/or disqualification of providers etc. How many organisations are expected to cover England and Wales? I accept that the noble Lord has said that eight organisations have shown an interest, but how many are envisaged to cover the whole of England and Wales?
Finally, can the Minister be more forthcoming about estimated costs? I understand that it is not possible to estimate how much take-up there will be of the scheme. However, there will be start-up costs for the system to be put in place, and, of course, running costs. What are these likely to be? I have seen in a publication the figure of £250 million. This sum would allow for only a relatively modest take-up of the scheme. Therefore should the take-up be far greater, is there an open-ended budget to meet the costs, or would the scheme have to be cash limited and, if so, how would that be done?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her remarks. I shall do my best to answer some of the questions that she has raised. Of course there is a difference as regards the two sides of this House in relation to the working families' tax credit. We believe that that scheme, and the childcare scheme that follows from it, will assist particularly those who are poorest and in work. For that, it should be praised. The system of family credit does not have that effect.
I wish to deal with the point about the criminal records check. I make it clear that it is expected that accredited organisations and childcare providers will check criminal records and the DfE list and the DoH list--of which the noble Baroness is aware--where that is possible under current arrangements. We expect organisations which apply for accreditation to include a requirement in their quality assurance scheme about what checks they expect childcare providers to make on the staff they employ. The Government expect this to include police checks, together with medical and qualification checks, and taking up references on staff. If an accredited organisation has doubts about the suitability of a childcare provider to work with children, it can refuse to give that childcare provider approval under the requirements of this scheme.
The back-stop is this: if the Secretary of State is not satisfied that an organisation seeking accreditation has fully met the requirements of the scheme--which may include the standard it sets on checking suitability of staff--he can reject the application.
I move on to deal with funding and the question of whether the childcare tax credit will cost a large amount of money. For the £4 billion figure quoted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies to be right, there would have to be a massive behavioural change affecting almost 1 million families. Those who do not currently incur childcare costs and who get the childcare tax credit would need to pay for at least 30 per cent of the cost out of their own pocket. Our estimate is that costs are expected to be about £200 million in the first full year. That figure steers a course between the current position with the failed childcare disregard in family credit--which costs just over £30 million--and the kind of massive charge represented by the figure of £4 billion.
We believe that the working families tax credit and its childcare provisions are very important as an encouragement to help into work those people who want to. It will particularly help some of the poorest families in our country to have a decent standard of living. It is right to say that for many years past it has not been easy or possible for many mothers, in particular, to go out to work because, if they did so, no one has been available to look after their children. We hope to at least make it easier for such people to do so and to feel secure about who will be looking after their children.
The noble Baroness mentioned families who work shifts and referred to nannies. It is important to the Government that the funding is seen to support good quality childcare. We do not support a registration scheme for nannies, which would be difficult to administer and would not, therefore, be a practical solution to the concerns that some parents have stemming from reports of recent tragic cases, which I do not need to go into. Parents need to be especially careful in their choice of nannies because there is no way that the quality of care can be assured.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. That was not the point that I raised on nannies. My point was that a nanny could register and become a child minder employed by one family and work for another family where the tax credit could be received. I said that there was an anomaly there. I did not mention shift work at all. I did ask about the start-up and running costs. While I do not expect the Minister to have the answer tonight, it would be helpful to receive it in writing.
I am profoundly disappointed that it is only "expected" that criminal checks shall be run. In schools, anyone working with children are required by law to seek that information from criminal records. We are talking about a group of vulnerable young people. It seems very unfortunate therefore that if someone does not do so, although it may be expected of them, it will not be necessarily wrong.
Perhaps I may return to the question of police criminal records. As the noble Baroness will know, at present there are three sources of information that help to assess a person's suitability to work with children; the police check of criminal records, the DfEE list 99 and the Department of Health consultancy index. We expect accredited organisations and childcare providers to check the criminal records and the other lists where that is possible under current arrangements. Local authorities which provide holiday play schemes have access to these checks. Voluntary organisations which are members of the voluntary organisations consultancy services will also have access to all three checks. The eight organisations which have registered their interests with us in applying for accreditation will all have access to these checks. As I said, if they are to be successful, they will be expected to make those checks in a very careful way.
The safety and well being of children is paramount. I know that that is behind the noble Baroness's concerns. I say again, we expect organisations who apply to the Secretary of State to include a fit person check as a requirement within their quality assurance schemes. We expect accredited organisations and childcare providers to check criminal records where that is possible under current arrangements. If an accredited organisation has doubts about the suitability of the childcare provider to work with children, it can refuse to give that childcare provider approval under the requirements of this scheme--and it is expected that it will. I commend these regulations to the House.