Childcare must be a core HR concern

Children’s minister Margaret Hodge has criticised HR for failing to attach
enough importance to the role of childcare in improving business productivity,
retention and recruitment.

Hodge told Personnel Today that HR needed to do more to get the message
across to business leaders that helping working parents get access to quality,
affordable childcare should be a business priority, and not just a perk.

"HR needs to see this as a core issue, which it is not doing at the
moment. It needs to stop seeing it as other people’s responsibility," she
said.

HR had a central role to play in building partnerships with childcare
providers, Hodge said, but acknowledged that changing perceptions would
continue to be ‘an uphill struggle’.

"Any HR director who wants to support the profitability of their
business should be thinking about work-life balance, including childcare,"
she said.

Her comments come as a leading supporter of childcare vouchers raised doubts
over whether tax changes, due to come into force next year, may not encourage
better take-up of the scheme.

According to voucher provider Accor Services, in a study of 113 HR
professionals, 96 per cent of firms had heard of the vouchers, but just 18 per
cent currently offered them to their employees.

From next April, the vouchers, which employees can use to pay for approved
childcare, will be free of tax and National Insurance (NI) up to a value of £50
a week. Up to now all childcare vouchers have simply been exempt from Class 1
NI contributions.

Richard Stokes, HR services director of employment and reward at chemicals
giant AstraZeneca, said he was concerned the change could have a
"significant downside" and actually deter firms from signing up,
despite the new tax break.

"People can take significant amounts of vouchers and not have to pay NI
on them. Even though there is a tax advantage now, there may be a problem for
people who use them for more than that £50," he said.

By Nic Paton

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