HC Deb 11 February 1999 vol 325 cc455-6
9. Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

If he will make a statement on the measures which his Department proposes to introduce to encourage parents to combine work with family life. [68880]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Margaret Hodge)

Working with employers and others, we will promote employment practices that benefit both families and businesses. We will finalise a campaign in the light of responses to our consultation document, "Supporting Families".

Caroline Flint

Does my hon. Friend agree that the spread of family-friendly working practices is not as wide as it might be? It is a shame that only one in 10 employers contribute in any way to the child care of their staff. Will she look at ways in which her Department and other appropriate Departments can provide joined-up thinking to encourage more employers to understand the business benefits of providing family-friendly policies for their staff, but also to see how we can enable some of those employers who want to do more to achieve their aim?

Ms Hodge

I agree that there is a lot of work to be done to change the culture on the acceptance of family-friendly employment policies. Some 46 per cent. of employees today have no access to any of the family-friendly working practices that we want to encourage. We are working across Government to raise the profile and importance of the policies to ensure that people understand the business case for adopting them. We shall be launching a campaign to provide advice, information and guidance, and we will give public recognition to those companies with family-friendly employment policies.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Does the Minister understand that, for most families, financial constraints are the greatest pressure on family life and cause the most difficulties in combining that with work? Does she accept that steps to tax child benefit would only increase the pressure on family life, and would mean that hard-pressed families would spend more time working to make up for the money that they lose?

Ms Hodge

It is indeed the pressure of finance that means that many people work long hours and that families do not spend enough time together. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the Government's introduction of the minimum wage, which will tackle that problem. People want time, as well as sufficient income—and as a mother, I know that time is often at a premium.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

My hon. Friend and her colleagues on the Front Bench, as well as Labour Members on the Back Benches, keep referring to joined-up thinking and joined-up writing. If we want to introduce family-friendly provisions in the workplace and the other protections contained in the employment relations legislation, why are those provisions not to be extended to firms with fewer than 21 employees?

Ms Hodge

I believe that my hon. Friend is referring to the extension of the disability discrimination legislation, which reduces the number of employees in firms to be covered by the measures from 25 to 20. We shall make further progress in that regard once the Disability Rights Commission is established. We shall seek advice from the commission about reducing the threshold further.

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