A new workingmums snap poll shows the impact of childcare costs and availability on parents as new statistics show many councils don’t keep data on whether the childcare they have meets local parents’ needs.
In the run-up to the Budget there has been a lot of focus of late on the huge childcare costs parents in England are incurring and the impact this is having on how much and whether they can work.
A snap workingmums.co.uk poll this week shows 80 per cent of parents say that childcare costs are causing them or their partner to reduce their hours. Sixty nine per cent said they are considering dropping out of work as a result of childcare costs.
Sixty per cent are mixing formal and informal care to bring down costs. Sixty three per cent said that they suffer a breakdown in their childcare plans such as a grandparent being sick at least once every six months, with 15 per cent saying this happens on a weekly basis. Seventy-six per cent of parents polled had children aged under four.
A huge 93 per cent of parents think the Government does not understand the childcare issues they are facing.*
Parents referred to childcare costs as ‘soul destroying’ and ‘a punishment’ and said the system is broken. Several said the fees were as high as their housing costs and some said they were higher than housing and other bills combined.
Many spoke of total exhaustion. One mum said: “I have had to condense my days so I work full time over four long days just to try and get a free day with no costs. It is exhausting and very hard.” Another said she had done the same, ‘squishing’ her hours into four long days, but not seeing her children on those days.
One single mum sounded at the end of her tether. She said: “Having children should not feel like a death sentence. We have choices to have children or not and those who do should be supported adequately for the first four years of a child’s life…Enough is enough. I have a nine-month-old son and two teenage daughters, one with a disability. I have to work full time as a single mother to pay our mortgage. I won’t even start on the slander that single mothers receive… all the nuances around that alone and the financial demands are devastating. As women, we often do not have time to process trauma and are continuously running on empty; hoping for the best due to this violent patriarchal society that constantly throws us under the bus. Enough is enough. We need all-round support so that when our children are grown we still can function healthily in all areas of our lives, including financially and mentally.”
And it wasn’t just about early years childcare costs and availability. One mum said: “It’s not just my three year old who it is hard to find childcare for. My older children’s school only offers afterschool care until 4.15 and the pick-up options are so expensive and limited that I can’t consider jobs that require hours out of school hours. And last summer, I spent more on holiday clubs than I earned even with government help. I had to quit my job over these issues and I haven’t found anything suitable since. Employers in my area need to be more flexible and the government needs to understand the challenges for parents of school aged children as well as nursery age.”
Another said: “Childcare goes beyond nursery issues. My children are seven and eight. If I needed breakfast, afterschool and holiday clubs, I’m looking at £6-7k a year. I work evenings. My mental health and general health is suffering because for the last 8 years I’ve been living on five hours’ sleep a night and it’s taking its toll. There has been no option but to work part time around my husband’s hours. Even if I worked full-time hours, the holiday clubs in our area only run from 9.30 until 2/3.”
And there was a plea from the mum of a child with disabilities. “It is hard enough but even harder for parents of disabled children for whom there is limited space in holiday clubs etc. Please let the parents of disabled children work; we have much to contribute to society. Our children deserve the same access to friends and activities in the holidays and after school as mainstream children. Please listen to us.”
Gillian Nissim, founder of workingmums.co.uk, said: “Our surveys have consistently shown that childcare is one of the top three barriers to women working after having children. We have for years called for childcare to be given more prominence and to be treated as core economic infrastructure. It’s not just those on the lowest pay that are affected, although benefits changes are vital. It’s the whole childcare edifice that is crumbling and that needs to be dealt with urgently. Our survey shows large numbers of women now considering dropping out of work due to childcare costs or reducing their hours. Childcare needs to be properly funded and childcare providers need to be valued and supported so they can deliver the care parents desperately need to work the hours they want to work.”
Cost is just one symptom of a deeper childcare malaise, however. Availability of childcare and whether it is flexible enough for the working lives of many parents are also crucial issues, especially given Section 6 of the Childcare Act specifies that local authorities in England have a duty to secure sufficient childcare for working parents.
The Early Years Alliance has just published data that, it says, shows that Government claims that there are enough childcare and early education places in England to meet demand are “meaningless”, given that less than one in six local authorities in England collect data on the proportion of local parents who are able to access the number of days/sessions they need, when they need it and where they need it.
The data comes following a Freedom of Information request by EYA which shows that, despite almost all (96%) top tier councils saying they had sufficient early years places in their area overall, only 15% currently collect information on what proportion of parents and carers in the area are able to access the quantity of early years provision that they need. Moreover, only 14% currently collect data on what proportion of parents and carers in the area are able to access early years provision on the specific times and dates that they want. And only 9% currently collect data on what proportion of parents and carers in the area are able to access early education and childcare at their first choice early years setting. Less than one in 10 local authorities collect the same information specifically from parents of children with special education needs.
A report out last week from Coram Family and Childcare also showed that general availability of childcare places – as opposed to availability in terms of meeting parent’s location/timing/days requirements – is a postcode lottery and has fallen across several categories over the last year. For example, only half of councils said there were enough childcare places for children under two in their area, down 7% on the year. Just under half said there were enough places for children whose parents work full-time, a drop of 11%. After-school clubs for primary-school children also fell slightly.
*workingmums.co.uk will be conducting another snap poll after the Budget to see what parents think of what is on offer. The Government is under pressure on childcare from campaign groups, business organisations like the CBI, its own backbenchers and the Labour party, which has announced plans for fully funded breakfast clubs for every primary school in England and has said it would guarantee childcare from the age of nine months to 11 years if elected (although its plans are not yet fully costed).