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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

To continue to improve living standards as the population ages, we need the British labour force to engage in productive work for longer, which means supporting people to work more efficiently throughout their lives. While much of our focus is rightly on future generations of workers, there is another way to shape our economic demography: we can unleash the workers we have right here, right now.

Governments have expanded parental leave and other family programmes in the past and should do so again, to make it easier for parents to combine working with raising children. Childcare is more expensive in the UK than in any other country in Europe. The current patchwork of costly provision does not make for a supportive climate in which to raise a family, a particular cause for concern given trends in birth rates.

We need to think about the infrastructure of care in our society.

Crucially, the hard work of caring for the next generation can no longer be taken for granted or discounted as free labour. Just as we have an education system and a healthcare system, we need to think about the infrastructure of care in our society. This is not merely for the good of children and the economy of tomorrow; it is also a major benefit to prime-age workers and a boon to the economy of today. More support for families means more people in work and increasing numbers of well-educated and highly productive women contributing to the economy.

The government should implement a policy that provides a menu of affordable options for families: including maternity leave, more generous paternity leave, shared parental leave (particularly with incentives for men to take their allotment). This should include a major boost to funding for childcare provision. Part-time and flexible work arrangements should come with benefits including sick leave, pensions and parental leave. For flexible workers in insecure employment, these benefits could be provided through portable pots to which all their employers contribute.

These measures would help reduce the challenges associated with a declining birth rate and change the policy climate for future generations of working parents. This is the ideal investment: flexible enough to take account of individual talents and preferences, innovative enough to capitalise on ever-evolving social norms about work and family and with real returns in economic productivity.

This article was originally published as part of Minister for the Future in partnership with Prospect. Illustrations by Ian Morris. You can read the original feature on the Prospect website.