HC Deb 09 July 1998 vol 315 cc1229-30
9. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

What steps he is taking to promote family-friendly employment practices. [48096]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Alan Howarth)

We are working across Government to promote family-friendly employment policies in a range of ways. My Department's contribution includes the national child care strategy and publicising the business case for such policies.

Mr. Coaker

Does the Minister agree that this is a most crucial area of Government policy and that, if we are to bring about change in the country, family-friendly employment practices are extremely important? Does he agree also that there is a long way to go in terms of increasing employers' awareness of all that is available and bringing the standards of practice of the poorest employers up to the standards of the best?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. There is much happening through the national child care strategy and the policies set out in the "Fairness at Work" White Paper, which reflect the importance that my hon. Friend and I and the Government attach to family-friendly policies. I appreciate that it is a complex story, and we shall make every effort to explain the case. We have produced a summary version of our Green Paper on child care, which is available on the internet and in a range of languages in accessible formats. We are supporting parents at work by producing a pack for employers. This afternoon, I shall meet Joanna Foster, head of the National Worklife Forum, which is a campaign sponsored by industry to make the case for family-friendly policies. I shall brief business men next week for an hour at breakfast—when I hope that my hon. Friend's alarm clock will not have gone off.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Does the Minister accept that more families now depend on the income of both parents to ensure reasonable living standards for them and their children? Does he accept also that, although the situation will be improved by the introduction of the minimum wage, more friendly employment practices would be achieved if employers provided more flexible working hours for mothers of young children and creche facilities for the children of working mothers?

Mr. Howarth

I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman. More and more employers are recognising the business case for family-friendly employment practices. Such practices mean that they will be able to recruit from a wider pool of labour and retain workers whom they have trained to skill levels. Productivity will be greater because there will be less stress and absenteeism among the work force. Employers can help in a variety of ways: by supporting the child care costs of staff, sponsoring places in out-of-school clubs and holiday play schemes, linking their employees with child minding networks and operating flexible working hours and term-time working. In all those ways, employers can help their colleagues in work to balance their obligations to the employers with their obligations to their families.

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