HC Deb 06 July 1998 vol 315 c723
4. Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)

What steps she is taking to improve the quality of child care. [47471]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women (Ms Joan Ruddock)

Quality is one of the three watchwords of our national child care strategy, which aims to ensure good-quality, affordable child care for children in every neighbourhood.

Our plans to raise quality of care include: better integration of early education and child care, a more consistent regulatory regime, and a new training and qualifications framework for early years workers.

Mr. Pound

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In Ealing, North, many parents are becoming increasingly reliant on child minders and ensuring the quality of that care is becoming increasingly important. Many child minders are low paid and receive little or no formal training. Is my hon. Friend prepared to comment further on the present system? Does she have confidence in it?

Ms Ruddock

Many parents have confidence in the present system but, as I have said, we are always looking to raise quality in this area. We want to improve the image of working with children and to make it an attractive career. We are concerned that 70 per cent. of child minders do not have formal qualifications. However, some local authorities—including my own—provide a great deal of training and advice for child minders. We want to encourage them to gain qualifications and to achieve nationally recognised standards, and we are doing a great deal of work in that field. My hon. Friend will be aware of the current consultation paper on regulations and the overall strategy in which I hope that all hon. Members will be involved.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

Does the Minister accept that child benefit is important for many parents—particularly lone parents—when it comes to providing quality child care? Will the Minister confirm reports that the Secretary of State intends to change the date for payment of child benefit to 16-year-olds from the first Monday in September to 26 June? Will that not mean that some mothers will lose up to £856 and that all parents will lose £114 on average? Will the Minister tell the House why, given that state schools usually recess for the summer in mid to late July, the date of 26 June has been chosen? Is the Secretary of State confusing that date with the rising date of public schools, such as Fettes college and St. Paul's school?

Ms Ruddock

I really do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets his information from. In respect of his benefits inquiry, the answer is definitively no.

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