The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced plans to help people back into work.
Jeremy Hunt used his 2023 budget to confirm plans to expand the free provision of childcare hours, a programme of ‘returnships’ for workers over 50 and additional support for people with long-term health issues.
From September 2025, free childcare for all children over the age of 9 months will be available to working parents in England. All households where parents work at least 16 hours a week will be eligible.
The chancellor plans to introduce the scheme gradually. Parents with 2-year-old children will be the first to benefit with 15 hours of free childcare from April next year. Meanwhile, parents of children aged nine months to four years will receive the full entitlement of 30 hours free childcare by September 2025.
Mr Hunt argued that the decision to provide extra funding for childcare would reduce the financial burden on parents and help women back into work: ‘For many women, a career break becomes a career end. Our female participation rate is higher than average for OECD economies, but we trail top performers like Denmark and the Netherlands. If we matched Dutch levels of participation, there would be more than one million additional women working.’
The government also plans to support people with disabilities to remain in work longer. The work capability assessment will be scrapped as part of this programme, and a new scheme – universal support – will help people with disabilities back into the jobs market. The government hopes that 50,000 people a year will get help once the scheme is in operation.
‘Returnships’ for Older Workers
In a sign that the government is willing to address some of the issues faced by older workers, the chancellor said he was setting aside cash to fund a series of apprenticeships for the over 50s. The scheme will offer older workers the chance to acquire new skills and get back into the jobs market.
Hunt argued that his measures had the potential to add an additional one million people to the UK’s workforce and help plug skills gaps across the economy.
He said: ‘Older people are the most skilled and experienced people and turning 50 is a moment of anxiety rather than an anticipation of two decades of fulfilment.’
The Workers Union Says…
Helping people back into work is a critical part of building a stronger, more resilient economy that makes the best use of the talents of the British workforce. Many of the brakes to making this happen identified by the chancellor have been repeatedly called out on these pages, including the financial hardship faced by hard working families and the skills shortage.
We are delighted to see that the government has taken steps to address these issues. But this is the start of a long road, not journey’s end. Employers must also recognise that recovery becomes more of a reality when workers are offered pay and conditions that meet the cost of living and encourage loyalty, industry and initiative.