Got children? Then chances are you pay – or have paid–for childcare. And you’re paying a lot. In Britain, we have the second most expensive childcare in the world: over 35% of the average family’s income. It’s little surprise that almost two-thirds of women who return to work after becoming mothers are forced to work fewer hours, change jobs or leave the workforce altogether due to the crippling costs.
The lack of accessible, affordable, well-funded childcare is perhaps the single biggest barrier to women’s career progress – and the Covid-19 pandemic, when women have had to shoulder the bulk of the extra care, has accelerated the problem into a mounting crisis. That’s why Grazia and our parenting platform, The Juggle, are launching a campaign with the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, calling on the Government to lead a full, independent review into the childcare sector.
‘The cost of childcare is catastrophic for women, who are being forced out of the workplace or to accept the stagnation of their careers,’ says Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed. ‘The system doesn’t work for providers, either; the majority of childcare workers are women, who are paid appallingly. We urgently need a change.’
At a time when many families are suffering the financial effects of the pandemic, costs are rising rapidly. This year’s annual report by the Coram Family and Childcare Trust found that 25 hours of nursery care for a child under two costs an average of £138 per week, or over £7,000 per year – that’s 4% more than a year ago. For a child aged two, it now costs 5% more.
Compare the UK to other countries and it’s clear the odds are stacked against British women. Here, most parents can access free childcare hours when their child turns three. But in Sweden, all children over the age of one can attend full-time preschool, with fees capped at 3% of parental income. Similarly, in Germany, children over the age of one are entitled to a place in a state- provided nursery at a low cost to parents, while in Korea, where the system is entirely state-subsidised, parents pay nothing at all.
‘In other countries, childcare is viewed as essential infrastructure,’ says Joeli. ‘We see from Scandinavian countries that having a properly subsidised system has enormous benefits for the economy.’ The Women’s Budget Group, which analyses how Government policies affect women, estimates that up to 95% of the cost of free universal preschool childcare could be recouped from the increase in employment and reduction in state benefits – yet ‘Governments think short-term,’ Joeli says.
In fact, last December, the Government actually announced a reduction in childcare funding, leading to the predicted closure of 30,000 nurseries and preschools by Christmas. This, when Pregnant Then Screwed’s research shows 15% of working mothers either have been, or expect to be, made redundant since the start of the pandemic – largely because they had to juggle their jobs with so much extra childcare – will be disastrous for women’s progress.
Katie, a marketing manager, is one of thousands of women quitting her job because she simply can’t afford to work. ‘I’m currently on maternity leave with my second child and have calculated that with both of them in part-time childcare, my contribution to the family finances will be £30 per month. It’s impossible to make it work on my salary,’ she says. ‘I’m devastated that I have to take a career break, which I know will set me back and make me far less appealing to employers when I eventually go back.’
Nalini Raman left her job in advertising after paying £2,800 per month for both her sons to attend nursery. ‘Within 24 hours of my salary hitting my account, it disappeared on childcare,’ says Nalini, who now runs a children’s party business, Party Genie. ‘I was left with about £200 per month for all my slog, and there were times when my husband had to pay for my train pass. It just wasn’t worth it.’
Many others have to snatch moments to finish work they can’t fit into the days they have childcare. Lucy Baker, a confidence coach, was deluged with responses when she posted recently on Twitter about paying £400 per month for her two-year-old son to attend nursery just two days a week. ‘So many women replied with their own stories of the extortionate sums they had to pay just so they could work,’ she says. ‘I’d love to work more, but I simply can’t afford to, so I do as much as I can in the two days I have, then end up working at night when the kids are in bed to catch up. It’s exhausting.’
Of course, for solo and single parents, working significantly reduced hours or taking a career break usually isn’t an option. Claire, a solo mother and primary schoolteacher, fell into debt after struggling to find £1,000 a month to pay for her daughter’s nursery. ‘I earned too much to qualify for Universal Credit, but had absolutely no money left for food or anything else after paying my mortgage, bills and the ridiculous nursery fees,’ she says. ‘My credit card debt was getting out of control, which was so stressful and, at one point, I had to borrow money from a kind friend. Eventually, I made the decision to sell my house and move somewhere a lot cheaper and smaller as it was the only way I could afford the last year of childcare before my daughter goes to school.’
A change is long overdue, so we’re asking our readers to sign Grazia and Pregnant Then Screwed’s petition demanding an in-depth review of the system. ‘We want it to look at how many mothers would work more if childcare was properly funded and the benefits that would have,’ says Joeli. ‘We want to know what a system that makes childcare affordable and pays its workers a decent wage would look like. We want childcare to be seen as an investment, not a cost.’
HELP US MAKE A CHANGE
Years of underfunding has left the childcare sector on the brink of collapse, yet the Government refuses to acknowledge the devastating impact on our children, economy and women’s equality.
We are calling on the Government to commission an independent review into the funding and affordability of childcare and to accept its recommendations.