New nurseries to help single parents go to work

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The Independent Online

A new childcare initiative, including a million extra nursery places, was announced yesterday by ministers in the biggest investment in helping single parents to return to work.

A new childcare initiative, including a million extra nursery places, was announced yesterday by ministers in the biggest investment in helping single parents to return to work.

More than 900 new nurseries are to be set up in deprived areas of England in a £155m injection of funds into childcare over the next four years. Annual investment in childminding and after-school clubs will also rise, from £66m this year to more than £200m by 2003-04.

Margaret Hodge, the Education and Employment minister, said that almost 40,000 people would be offered start-up grants to set up as childminders in the next two years.

The rise in funds for child care comes on top of a financial package revealed by Gordon Brown to help single parents to get back into work.

The Chancellor announced a £4.35 a week rise in working family tax credit for parents with two children and a new child tax credit worth £1.5bn for 5 million qualifying households. Another new programme, called Choices, will offer £15 a week on top of benefit for people going into training or education.

The Government believes that giving access to childcare is the solution to helping parents to return to work, and that tripling the budget for nursery care will address the nationwide shortage in qualified childminders.

Ms Hodge said: "We are witnessing a revolution in childcare for families up and down the country. Never before has a government attempted to deliver so many new childcare places.

"For decades mothers have been telling governments of all colours that what they want is good quality child care. This is not about forcing anybody into work. It's about giving mothers who want to work real choice."

The Chancellor said the Government believes that the new package of support for single parents could find jobs for 70 per cent of them. A pilot scheme starting this month, which will be extended throughout England next year, will allow parents to take part-time jobs of less than 16 hours a week and keep the first £20 of wages without affecting income support.

"We want to give lone parents real choices, enable them to move from welfare to work and get them and their children off benefits and out of poverty," Mr Brown said.

Labour has created almost 300,000 childcare places since coming to power in 1997. The extra money will provide places for 1.6 million children.

The National Council for One Parent Families welcomed the plans. Kate Green, the director, said: "These are positive measures, and an important step forward for the many lone parents who want to work."

Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Social Security, told an Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development conference in London that tackling poverty among children was a priority for the Government.

"We know that children who grow up in poor households are less likely to do well at school," he said. "All too often we see this pattern of poverty passed down to the next generation; born poor, living poor and dying poor. That's what happens when governments ignore poverty.

"What is needed is the determination - and the means - to break that cycle of persistent poverty," Mr Darling said.

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