The Childcare Conundrum: What If You Can’t Afford To Work After Having Kids?

Research shows today is the first day of the year parents make any money after paying annual childcare costs. Christine Armstrong reports

Increasing childcare costs are pricing parents out of work

by Christine Armstrong |

If you have kids and the costs are crushing you, rest assured that you are not alone. Research published by LinkedIn reveals that today – “Parental Pay Day” – is the day that parents start making money this year after paying off their annual childcare costs.

This comes as no surprise to Maria, mother of one, who gave up her job as a Montessori teacher because she was losing money by working. On paper, her income matched the cost of her childcare. But parent and team meetings happened were after school without any extra pay and, every time she stayed, she had to ask her partner to cover the cost. Eventually confronting the craziness of the situation, she gave up hope of working outside of the home until her son is in school. She feels sad they cannot afford to have another baby.

Research says that this is the reason that parents delay having children for an average of two and half years. People believe that they would need an income of £55,000 to cover the cost of childcare if they live outside of London - and £73,000 if they in London. Yet the average household income across the country is about £27,000.

“Women are punished for having children,” says Sara who is head of brand for a small fashion label and coming to the end of her second maternity leave. “I’ve worked so hard for ten years and yet here I am panicking about going back and how we’ll pay for it. My partner is a self-employed builder and works crazy hours. I want to go back but don’t know how we’ll manage and – look – I get it, we’re lucky. We have no debt and we’re a couple and our kids are healthy but we still can’t make it work.”

The study highlights the pressing need to change how we support families, given that we long ago let go of the idea of one (usually male) breadwinner and a partner at home to take care of family. Especially as our housing costs have quadrupled in the last twenty years. Meaning that even if we wanted to live that way, most of us couldn’t afford to. The question is, what needs to change?

Affordable childcare from the end of maternity leave to school. Not random and constantly changing access to 15 hours, 30 hours, complex voucher systems and new tax relief options. This has to include flexible care for those who are self-employed or on unpredictable zero hour contracts – and with enough supply that you don’t have to register before your kids are even born.

Sara (above) says their nursery charges £1600 per month for one full-time child. They get a 20% discount on the second child but, she says, that’s hopeless as the combined bill will still be twice all of their other outgoings. Their nursery will also only offer three days or five days which means she cannot do a four-day week as she would like to.

Families also need sensible working hours that make caring for others possible. With longer commutes and a creeping working day (if not on paper, certainly in reality) work is eating more and more of the day. Yet data from the American labour bureau shows that the average office worker is only productive for 2 hours and 54 minutes a day – so many people could do their jobs better in less time.

Plus, genuinely flexible work, supported by improved technology and valued in the same way as full-time could help ease the situation. Far too many people I interview who work part-time, tell me that they only get paid for three or four days a week but are expected to be answerable to work all the time, which means they often need childcare even though they’re not being paid. ‘Flexible work’ is being used as a cover for paying people less to be out of the office for some of the time. We need to think much harder about how to make it possible to work hard when we are at work and to not work when we are home.

As Sara concludes: “The frustrating consequence of these costs is that women are being priced out of the workforce just as everyone is telling us we should be dancing on the glass ceiling. Utter rubbish. You can’t ‘lean in’ when you can’t afford to work.”

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