AS Secretary of State for Work and Pensions two of my main missions are to help more people into work and to assist people to stay in work.

UK employment is at a near record high and unemployment is very low (currently four per cent compared to 7.9 per cent in 2010) but there is always more that can be done.

I have written quite a lot about the first mission, with my department (DWP) investing heavily in support services for job seekers and programmes such as Access to Work which looks at the barriers disabled people face in securing and retaining employment.

A firm approach is also taken against the minority of people who do not meet their responsibilities to make reasonable efforts to secure work.

This includes imposing sanctions (usually in the form of a reduction in benefits) for persistently missing meetings with work coaches or turning down job offers.

But taking action to keep people in work is just as important.

Affordable childcare is key to this and we recently raised how much parents in receipt of Universal Credit can claim for childcare by 47 per cent (from £646 to £951 for one child and from £1,108 to £1,630 for two children).

This will help remove one of the greatest barriers to work for parents on lower incomes while providing the strongest possible incentive to take on more hours.

Greater support for all working parents will be introduced from next April with 15 free hours childcare for working parents of two-year-olds, followed by 15 free hours from nine-months-old from September 2024.

This is the largest expansion in government-funded childcare since David Cameron introduced 30 free hours for the majority of three-year-olds during his premiership.

Employees are also being given more flexibility with their work hours (something which consistently ranks near the top of what employees value most in a job), through an Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill. Delivering on a manifesto commitment, the legislation will give workers the right to request flexible working from day one of a new job, with employers required to consider any requests and provide a reason before rejection.

This could relate to working hours or patterns, making it easier to manage school drop offs and pickups, studying, or caring for family or friends.

The measures are also good for British business with research showing companies that embrace flexible working can attract more talent, improve staff motivation and reduce staff turnover.

Another key area is improving employee health and my department has just launched a major consultation on Occupational Health to ensure all employees can access vital mental and physical health support at work.

Healthy businesses need healthy workers – employers will benefit from higher retention rates, more productive workers and fewer work days lost due to sickness.

One route to encouraging more businesses to invest more in Occupational Health may be through additional tax relief for associated costs and this is something the government is looking at.

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