Recently, my work and my brain ground to a screaming halt when my youngest kid tested positive for Covid. He had one of those colds that all five-year-olds get; I really hadn’t expected the testing kit to show a double blue line, and after informing the school, both children were placed back into my care for the foreseeable future; while my diary, full of meetings, fruitlessly competed for my attention. It was a reminder of the impossibility of attempting to earn a living at the same time as caring for children. For 870,000 mothers who want to work but can’t due to the cost and availability of childcare, they are reminded of this issue every single day.
A recent study by researchers at University College London has found that mothers in the UK earn 45% less than their childless counterparts. This motherhood pay penalty is almost double that of Sweden and Denmark, where they have heavily subsidised, affordable, good quality childcare. Swedish childcare costs about 5% of the average wage. Childcare in the UK costs about 30% of the average wage. This means that far fewer parents send their kids to nursery and so mothers are left literally holding the baby; and then we wonder why we have a gender pay gap of 15.5% and there are only 17 female CEOs running FTSE 350 companies.
But there’s a glimmer of hope. Thanks to over 100,000 of you who signed the Pregnant Then Screwed, Grazia and The Juggle petition to demand an independent review of the cost and affordability of our childcare sector, Parliament will now debate this on 13 September. It’s a big step and gives us an opportunity to state our request to a minister who has the power to make a change. If the Government, as has been claimed, thinks our childcare sector is serving our children and economy well, then we want evidence to support that claim.
If our childcare system is faultless then why did 84% of parents tell us in 2019 that the cost of childcare creates financial anxiety in their household? And why do 62% of parents say they work fewer hours because of childcare cost and availability? If the funding to the sector is suitable then why, in the last year, have nursery closures increased by 35% compared to the previous year (according to analysis by the National Day Nurseries Association)? Why did a Freedom of Information request by the Early Years Alliance uncover that MPs have knowingly underfunded the 30 hours free scheme since its inception (a shortfall of £2.60 per child, per hour for every 30-hours place)?
The Government should stop gaslighting us. Parents, childcare workers and childcare providers have been blowing the whistle on this problem for years, but we’ve had nonsensical numbers rammed down our throats and platitudes from ministers about how important this issue is to them – well, this is their opportunity, prove it!
If you believe that it is imperative the Government commits to an independent review of our childcare sector then we need your support. We need as many MPs to attend this debate as possible to demand more be done.
Write to your MP and ask that they attend on your behalf. It’s really easy, all you need to do is click here, pop in your postcode, and the letter is all written for you – just press send. Please share this link far and wide. Because a thriving childcare system is good for everyone.