This Is How Much It Costs To Raise A Family Now. Which Politicians Will Help?

With the general election approaching, one thing is front of mind for many parents, especially those of young children: who on earth will save us from drowning?

by Clare Seal |
Updated on

Of all the many pressures on modern families – balancing work and child-rearing, breaking old cycles of parenting behaviour, chronic overstimulation – the struggle to keep our heads above water financially must be up there with the most difficult.

The cost-of-living crisis has ripped a deep gash in the finances of many families, and all but the very wealthiest are feeling stretched by rising rents or mortgages, food costs, energy bills and other essentials. With the general election approaching – a rare opportunity to influence the decisions made on our behalf – one thing is front of mind for many parents, especially those of young children: who on earth will save us from drowning?

When starting a family, most people expect to make lifestyle sacrifices to stay within budget – less disposable income, fewer holidays and a curbed social life are all par for the course. Still, it is not unreasonable to expect parenthood to be at least survivable. So what does it actually cost to raise a family in 2024, and what would help?

The financial impact of having a child – or children – is twofold

The financial impact of having a child – or children – is twofold. The first aspect is increased outgoings, including everything from ‘kit’ (think kids’ clothes, equipment, furniture) and consumables (food, nappies, baby wipes) to bigger costs like childcare and perhaps a larger home or car. In some of these areas, being thrifty can make a real difference, as there’s a huge amount to be saved by shopping preloved, accepting hand-me-downs and making do – but compromising on quality of childcare in order to save money is not an option many people are willing to consider, and for good reason. According to recent data from SmarTrike, these expenses average £23,500 per year – an increase of 75% since 2013.

The second facet is decreased income and limited opportunities to earn. At the very least, having a child involves one parent taking some leave from work, possibly with only statutory pay (a pittance). It’s also likely that at least one person will see their earnings capped for years to come, because the demands of caring for a child are often in conflict with the requirements of thriving and progressing at work, at least in the early days.

These two challenges form the rock and the hard place between which many parents find themselves, and the squeeze seems to be getting tighter by the day. It’s getting harder to earn enough to accommodate the gargantuan costs, especially without hitting earning thresholds for benefits or falling into tax traps. Research by Pregnant Then Screwed shows that 46% of people have had to dip into their savings or take on debt in order to raise their children, up from 35% in 2023.

'The financial impact of having a child – or children – is twofold'

I certainly count myself among this group. Having previously accrued an eye-watering amount of debt while raising a young family, then subsequently paid it off, I found myself once again in a panic after the birth of my third child last year. The ship has steadied somewhat since I’ve been able to work more, but our financial bottom line is so high that it makes me feel slightly sick. The other day, I spent over £80 making sure everyone had enough pants. The baby doesn’t even wear pants yet.

On average, in my family, we spend over £1,100 per month on childcare, covering two evenings of after-school club for my two older children, and 24 hours a week with a wonderful childminder for my baby daughter. We somehow juggle the rest, including school holidays, but it means that I am constantly on the back foot, scrambling to find time to do my job. We spend up to £800 a month on food shopping, which has skyrocketed over the last couple of years; I struggle with every tool at my disposal to keep it down. A large part of this amount goes on formula for my daughter, who much to my dismay, is resisting a move to cow’s milk.

New clothes to keep up with growth spurts and torn knees cost between £50 and £100 per month, and that’s without anything that I might buy to feel presentable or comfortable in my postpartum body. Other family-related bills and expenses come to around £700, including saving ahead for Christmas and birthdays, and life insurance, so that neither of us are left trying to afford all this alone, should the worst happen. Nappies are £35, swimming lessons £80, school dinners £60.

The cost of raising children in the UK

We are so fortunate to be able to cover the essentials, but it doesn’t leave much room to actually… enjoy our lives. As a freelancer, there is a constant anxiety hanging over me: I need to earn a certain amount to keep us in the black, but I can’t build up a decent buffer with living costs so high. And none of these costs are that unusual or extravagant, as I’m reminded by the commiserations in my comments and inbox when I speak about this publicly.

As the main political parties start to publish their manifestos, I know that many families are looking for a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel – so is anyone actually offering one?

The Conservatives, having been in power for 14 years, have already nailed their colours to the mast when it comes to family finance policies. Their changes to childcare funding, which are currently being rolled out, have been popular with parents: by 2025, pre-school children from the age of nine months should be able to access 30 hours per week of funded childcare, depending on eligibility. It has not been so popular with providers, who argue that funding is not adequate to provide quality care, and that the infrastructure for the extra places does not yet exist.

The Tories’ increase of the child benefit high-income charge threshold from £50,000 to £60,000 has also been welcomed, as people have fought to increase their income to keep up with rampant inflation, only to lose out on child benefit and find themselves no better off. The current manifesto includes a promise to go further, moving to a household income threshold of £120,000, which the party says would benefit 700,000 families – especially one-parent households.

Labour have pledged 100,000 new childcare places in a move to address concerns about provision under the current funded hours plan. They have also promised to add VAT to private-school fees to fund improvements to state childcare and education, which has been received enthusiastically by some and with dismay by others. They have not committed to much else in terms of specific policies to help families to stay afloat.

One thing is very clear to me, and that is that a vast majority of Britain’s families are at a breaking point. The intense squeeze on finances cannot be solved by buying our kids’ clothes on Vinted or going camping instead of booking an all-inclusive trip abroad. If families are to be allowed to live well, and free of the intense money stress of the last few years, we urgently need radical changes.

The Child Poverty Action Group recommends scrapping the benefit cap, removing the two-child limit for benefits, and increasing child benefit by £20 per week. The first two of these policies have been pledged by the Lib Dems in their manifesto, alongside a promise to double statutory maternity and shared parental pay, and introduce use-it or lose-it parental leave, paid at 90% of earning – which could be a godsend for parents in the thick of nursery bugs or navigating a staggered start to school.

Of the manifestos that we have seen so far, the Lib Dems seem to have the most to offer families looking desperately for economic redress – but promises and delivery are two very different things, and there are questions about how these changes would be funded. If whoever forms the next government wishes to tackle falling birthrates and make the idea of starting a family less terrifying, I believe that more will need to be done even than this. Families need financial relief, not only to boost wellbeing, but also to give a shot in the arm to our economy by allowing them to spend more on building an enjoyable life.

This will be a huge task for whichever party finds themselves in government on 5th July, and I wish them luck – for all our sakes.

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