The issue of childcare is once again rising up the political and policy agenda.  A report from the Centre for Social Justice "Transforming Childcare, Changing Lives – Making Sure That Work Pays" highlights a ‘childcare crisis’ caused by the expense of childcare and the confusion around available subsidies which is blocking the route to employment for an increasing number of parents.

As politicians and policy people argue what the state can do, the cost of childcare should remain high on the agenda for employers for a number of reasons which relate to the health of their organisations and the quality of their employees. That’s because childcare costs have an important impact on the talent available to a businesses.

While employers can do little to influence the direct costs of childcare, there is much they can do to help and ensure that existing and prospective employees aren’t locked out organisations who need them. Here are five practical actions for employers:
1)      Offer childcare vouchers: Organisations of all sizes can do this and ensure all of their working parents can benefit from the tax and NI exemption.  This saves money and even companies with fewer than five employees can benefit from the scheme. It generally generates savings for the business as well.
2)      Make sure staff of older children know their benefits: Companies should ensure all staff are aware of the benefits – not just those with young children. There are over 10,000,000 working parents in the UK and 95% of working parents could benefit from Childcare Vouchers, however the average uptake if the scheme is around 5%, demonstrating that there is work to be done in building awareness. Childcare vouchers are for older children too and they can save on any activities that takes place outside of school hours and on school premises, including sports clubs and music lessons.
3)      Signpost information: Employers can bring together information packs targeted at parents with school age children or put on internal events highlighting local schemes.  They should also ensure that it is easy to join childcare voucher schemes scheme and make amendments or leave when required. Stringent rules or complicated procedures tend to impede take up. Working with local childcare providers or the local authorities to signpost childcare provision is another way that employers can support their working parents.
4)      Think flexibly: Implementing more flexible shift patterns or contract hours, so parents can work around their childcare arrangements can have a huge impact on childcare costs.  
5)      Find out what help they need: The most effective way of supporting employees is to talk to them directly to find out their needs.  It is all too easy to assume that employees want a certain thing, but all families are different and may have different needs.  It may be that from listening to them, employers find that they can simply tweak their existing provision to present a solution that works for their entire workforce.
Employers can’t solve the problem of affordable childcare but if there is some small support we can give through benefits and the way they are managed, then we should look to help our employees as far as we can do.

Andy Philpott is sales and marketing director at Edenred

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