2012: The perfect year to get more active as a family

On your marks and get set: 2012 is shaping up to be a massive year for sport in the UK creating the perfect excuse to get more active as a family. From the Olympic and Paralympic Games to the European Football Championships, tennis at Wimbledon, cycling in the Tour de France and golf at the British Open, such a diverse range of activities has never been so widely showcased.

So, with such a varied mix of sports being put in the spotlight, what better time to introduce children and young people to the idea, and benefits, of getting more active?

Being active as a family can be great fun and will also help to teach younger children how important being active is for staying healthy. By encouraging children to try out new activities they are much more likely to develop a positive attitude towards being physically active and to develop healthy habits that they can continue into adulthood.

It is also a great opportunity to talk about a broad range of associated issues too. For example, training and dedication, muscles and hydration, healthy diets and lifestyle habits, supporting team mates and how practice makes perfect!

Another benefit of having such a huge range of sports on display is that it can help to show older children that there is an almost endless range of options for them to choose from.

It’s important to remember that everyone is different. There are those who thrive on team sports and those who prefer more individual pursuits. What is important for a young person is that they find an active hobby, which they really enjoy and want to continue with.  

Schools are naturally limited when it comes to sports – both in terms of the time they have available for lessons and the range of activities they can offer. So again it’s a great opportunity to show children that there are other options, far and beyond those they may come across at school (and which they may not like!). It can help break down any barriers that may have been created there by opening their eyes to other options.

The Olympics and Paralympic Games are particularly good for this as they will showcase many sports that children may not otherwise encounter – everything from fencing and rowing, to volleyball, BMX, archery, canoeing, table tennis, show jumping and athletics.

So in this year of sport, make the most of it by encouraging your family to get more active and who knows, you may even find a sporting talent of the future is hiding under your own roof!

Guest blog from Personal Trainer Amy Marlow - @ELFfitness

Competition announcement! WIN sporting equipment!

Is your little one always bursting with energy and raring to go? Then how would you like the chance to win a fantastic prize, guaranteed to leave them hopping, skipping and jumping with joy? There are plenty of ways to keep your child entertained and active over the holidays and we’re here to help! Encouraging your child to be active is an important part of staying healthy and with one of these great prizes there will be no stopping them.

We are giving you the chance to win one of three amazing bundles of sporting equipment - the perfect treat for even the most energetic youngster!

There are two age groups you can enter – the under 3s, or the 3-16 years age group.

One lucky winner will be picked at random for each age group and will then be offered the choice of one of three sporting bundle prizes! From swimming essentials for babies and toddlers, to outdoors play equipment or a trampoline, there’s something for everyone!

So what are you waiting for? To enter, simply click here and tell us your child’s favourite sport.

Terms and conditions: This competition is open to all parents with a child aged 16 years of age or under and living in the UK. Entries are limited to one entry per person. The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative is available. Winners will be announced on our Facebook page from 24 September 2012. For the full terms and conditions which apply to this competition, please click here.



CVS launches healthy families drive!

After December, the month of excess, January and February sees us flocking to the gym in droves and looking for ways for us and our families to be healthier in the coming year.

As a Dad with a young son, it’s a huge priority of mine to ensure that he is eating healthily. To make sure my wife and I have enough time to create healthy balanced meals for Gabriel, we make everything from scratch at the weekend – which only takes a couple of hours – put them in pop-out trays and freeze them. This means we can take something out each morning for his lunch and dinner and we know exactly what’s in his food. 

[caption id="attachment_738" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Gabriel"][/caption]

Gabriel's favourite is Annabel Karmel's Cod and Spinach recipe, which he gets very excited about, as you can see! 

To help inspire parents, CVS has launched ‘Health Kick’ our special healthy families drive, where we will be offering tips, advice and ideas on our blog and interactive Facebook page. You can choose from the following articles for advice from us and our guest bloggers:

Encouraging Children to Eat More Healthily – by Annabel Karmel
Healthy snack SOS!

Family bootcamp – top tips for family fitness by personal trainer Simon Parker
‘Super’ foods for kids

We’d love you to get involved and to share your own hints, tips and recipe ideas.

Perhaps you have a clever way to encourage children to get their five-a-day? Or maybe you have some fun ideas for getting more active as a family? Whatever your experiences, we’d love to hear from you, find us at www.facebook.com/computersharevoucherservices

CVS is the UK’s largest dedicated provider of childcare vouchers. We work with thousands of parents and carers across the UK. To find out more about childcare vouchers and how they could help you save up to £1866 a year, visit www.computersharevoucherservices.com

How much does the average working mum spend on childcare?

According to Workingmums.co.uk's most recent annual survey, 16% of mums pay over £500 a month. Many are looking to cut back as a result of tax credit cuts. Grandparents are a favoured option. Some 43% of working mums make use of grandparents for childcare needs and pay nothing for childcare. However, many parents don't live close to relatives or cannot rely on them. Polls of working parents show that tax credit cuts are having a big impact. Almost a quarter of mums told a Workingmums.co.uk poll in May that they have been forced to stop working because of changes to tax credits.

The survey of over 320 mums found 24% said they had stopped working as a result of changes to tax credits which came in in April. Sixteen per cent had reduced their hours and 22% had increased their hours. Only 29% said the changes had not affected how they worked.

The Daycare Trust says further cuts are envisaged. Many of the mums polled are desperate to work. One said: “I've had to quit work as I can't afford the childcare. I now have no disposable income.”

One way round the tax credit cuts is vouchers. An increasing number of employers are offering childcare vouchers and these can offset up to £1,000 a year in childcare costs. However, many who qualify are missing out on savings due to misunderstandings about how they work. Men, for instance, often don't realise that they can claim childcare vouchers through their work. They assume that only the mother can claim.

With new legislation coming into effect this year regarding additional paternity leave, more firms are looking to engage more proactively with dads. This could lead to greater attempts to get them to claim benefits such as vouchers.

Other signs which point to an increasing role for childcare vouchers include the premium companies place on talent attraction. Research consistently shows that the leading firms of tomorrow will be those which can attract and keep the best staff.

As more and more families are counting the pennies, childcare vouchers will become increasingly valued in recruitment and retention strategies. Workingmums.co.uk's research shows childcare costs are one of the top three concerns of women returning to work after having children. If companies want to attract and keep the most talented staff, they will need to wake up to the issues that make a significant impact to their current and potential employees.

These opinions are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Computershare Voucher Services.

A day in the life of…a child at Honeypot - Rhiannon

Our partnership with Honeypot enabled three children to go on their first respite break at Honeypot House in the New Forest. Rhiannon* went for her visit during the Easter holidays; in this blog Clare Holloway, Children’s Services Manager at Honeypot, gives us an update of what Rhiannon got up to and what it means to her and her family. Rhiannon (7) lives at the family home with her birth mother and two siblings aged 9 and 2 years. Rhiannon and her family live in an area of high unemployment where drug and alcohol abuse, alongside crime and vandalism, are a common daily occurrence; this in turn affects their quality of life, self-esteem and confidence. The area also has an urgent need for regeneration.

Rhiannon’s brother has Williams Syndrome a condition which leads to him having a learning disability and profound hearing loss; he also had a heart condition. There have been concerns expressed by professionals about her mother’s ability to cope with her son’s disability. Her mother suffers from depression. Rhiannon struggles to get the appropriate attention from her mother especially since the birth of her younger sister. She is expected to help around the house and she is aware that she is treated differently to her siblings.

During Rhiannon’s time at Honeypot the children visited the beach and tried to catch some crabs as well as having an exciting trip to the local theme park. Her favourite activities at the House were being able to ride a bike and play on the trampoline in the sunshine. Rhiannon also enjoyed having her face painted and dabbled in the craft shed making bracelets and necklaces to take home.

The children also had the opportunity to try and break the biggest Easter egg they’d ever seen with tea spoons – as you can imagine it took a long time to break thorough and the children’s faces were amazing, I’m not quite sure they believed their eyes! To finish off the break Rhiannon enjoyed a DVD and girlie night followed by hot chocolate.

The individual that referred Rhiannon said: “…I just wanted to say thanks on her [Rhiannon] behalf for taking her in the service. I saw her this morning and she was very enthusiastic and talkative about what she did last week and is hoping that she can come again. It's good to know that she got on with the other children because she is saying she has no friends at school; definitely a positive outcome for her.”

The team at Honeypot love getting feedback like this and we’re so happy Rhiannon enjoyed her first break. We’re looking forward to seeing her again soon.

*Names have been changed to protect the children involved.

These opinions are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Computershare Voucher Services.

Child benefit means testing is in-line with new plans for childcare vouchers

No doubt you’ll have seen in the press this week that George Osborne has announced the axing of child benefits for higher and additional rate tax payers from 2013; affecting approximately 1.2 million families in the UK. The move, which Mr Osbourn describes as ‘tough but fair’ comes as part of an effort to reduce Government spending and is estimated to save the country £1 billion a year. However, those affected, whether stay-at-home or working parents, may stand to lose out on £2,000 each year without this benefit – a substantial sum for the majority of families.

The introduction of means testing for child benefits is in-line with upcoming changes to childcare vouchers, due to be implemented in April 2011. Previously, both have been applied universally and every parent, regardless of income, was eligible to receive the same amount of child benefit or saving on their childcare vouchers.

However, childcare vouchers have now been means tested and from April 2011, parents on a higher and additional rate tax will receive a lower benefit than those on basic rate tax. Instead of receiving £55 per week as before, higher and additional rate tax payers will only be able to save £28 and £22 per week respectively after the changes take effect. There’s a useful guide from HMRC which explains the changes in full.

This latest announcement would seem to suggest that the government are trying to provide a balanced benefits structure for all; although I think it’s likely to spark debate for a number of weeks.

If you’re going to be affected by the changes to childcare vouchers, or indeed by the removal of child benefit, you should look to optimise your saving potential and join a childcare voucher scheme as soon as possible. Higher and additional rate tax payers that join a scheme before April 2011 will be able to claim the £55 per week saving – if you wait until after that date then the new saving levels will apply.