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United Kingdom: Enhancing employment opportunities to eliminate child and family poverty, and improve life chances for children

The UK Government is committed to working to eliminate child poverty and improving life chances for children. A new approach, as set out in the UK’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill, will focus Government action on making sure that parents are able to work and that poor children are able to achieve the best educational outcomes. Proposals in the Bill introduce the new life chances measures of children in worklessness households and children’s educational attainment. 

Supporting the most vulnerable families

With the introduction of Universal Credit, the UK’s new ground-breaking anti-poverty benefit, the Government is seeking to lift claimants out of poverty and improve their standard of living and independence simultaneously. Consequently, Universal Credit has the potential to contribute to a range of national and European policy objectives, including the Europe 2020 target of lifting people out of poverty, by ensuring that it delivers adequate benefits and associated support services to families most at risk of falling into poverty.    

A new approach, announced by the UK Government in summer 2015, to eliminate child poverty and improve life chances for children, will focus on introducing measures that drive the right action to tackle the root causes of child poverty, rather than the symptoms. The latest Eurostat figures for the UK show that between 2013 and 2014, the percentage of the population at risk of poverty or social exclusion fell from 24.8 per cent to 24.1 per cent. Eurostat figures also show that 31.3 per cent of under-18s were in households at risk of poverty in 2014, a decrease of 1.3 percentage points since 2013. These figures are used to track progress against the EU 2020 target of reducing the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by at least 20 million across Europe.

The Government is also investing to help families with childcare costs while they look for work. The Government intends that if at least one parent works 35 hours a week at the minimum wage – or 24 hours if they are a lone parent – the majority of children will be pulled out of poverty.

Provision of childcare facilities

All three and four-year- old children are currently entitled to 15 hours per week of free early education for 38 weeks a year. The compulsory school age of five is among the earliest in Europe. All local authorities are required to report annually on how they are ensuring there is sufficient childcare to meet the needs of working parents.

Early Education for Two Year Olds

A Childcare Bill recently passed by the UK Parliament will  extend the free offer to working parents of three and four year olds by a further 15 hours per week. This gives families with parents in employment an entitlement to 30 hours of free childcare for their three- and four-year olds.

The UK Government intends to roll-out the 30 hour entitlement in September 2017. The offer will be made available in September 2016 in some areas, in order to test the best way to make the additional hours available.

The funded free entitlements are part of a wider package of childcare support. From April 2016, the government will increase support for childcare costs from 70% through the childcare element of working tax credits to 85% under Universal Credit.

From early 2017, working parents will also be able to access support under Tax-Free Childcare (TFC), for children up to the age of 12, or 17 years old for disabled children. Under TFC families could benefit by up to £2,000 per child, per year. Parents of disabled children could benefit by up to £4,000 per child, per year.

Shared parental leave came into force in April 2015, and the government plans to extend Shared Parental Leave and Pay to working grandparents.

The childcare market has demonstrated that it is able to expand and adapt, through their response to the roll-out of the entitlement for disadvantaged two-year-olds which was introduced and extended in the last Parliament.

Help and support for separated families

The UK is reforming the current child maintenance system. The reforms are aimed at giving separated parents better support and helping them to make family-based arrangements. This will enable parents to agree between themselves what and how much will be paid following a separation, without using the current statutory scheme, the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the courts. For those parents who are unable to make family-based arrangements, the Government introduced an improved 2012 statutory scheme (called the Child Maintenance Service). This will eventually replace the schemes run by the CSA.

Where breakdown occurs, the government is funding support services for separating and separated parents to ensure the interests of children are met. For families with multiple and complex needs it recently invested £448 million to drive a radical shift in the help they get to ensure they get the support they need to turn their lives around.

Measures to encourage lone parents to seek employment meant that, from May 2012 most lone parents with a youngest child aged 5 lost entitlement to Income Support when claimed solely on the grounds of being a lone parent. If not returning to work lone parents can, subject to eligibility, claim either Jobseeker’s Allowance, if they are capable of work, or Employment and Support Allowance, if they have limited capability for work or a health condition.

The information in the country profile was last updated in January 2016.