How is the cost of living crisis affecting the way mums work?

The cost of living crisis means many families are stuck between doing more hours and affording the childcare necessary to cover them. That makes flexible working even more essential.

cooking stove and electricity meter


workingmums’ recently published annual survey shows the impact financial struggles are having on parents, not just in terms of debt, but also their ability to afford childcare fees, and how vital flexible working is to them. We talked to two mums about their experiences.

Ayo Adewale has struggled with finding the flexible working that allows her to take care of her three children – aged one, three and six – without paying high childcare fees. Ayo and her partner have a household debt of £5-10K which is being paid off through scheduled repayments. When she went on maternity leave with her last child Ayo asked for flexible working from her employer in the civil service as an administrative assistant. However, they said she had to be full time in the office and that there were no flexible opportunities on other teams. So she resigned and looked for more flexible options.

Earlier this year Ayo, who is based in Kent, started an administrative job for a major employer in the finance sector. The job is a zero hours remote working role and she felt it would give her the flexibility she needs. However, as the work is not guaranteed and contracts change at the last minute she has faced two periods of several weeks with no work and no pay.  That affects her ability to afford regular daycare for her one year old. During a period of five weeks without work earlier in the summer the family had to use any savings they had to get by and cut back as much as they could. “I never wanted to be in that position again,” she says. But a few weeks ago she was again without work.

Ayo is ambitious, but she needs the flexibility that will allow her to balance the logistics of having a family alongside work. She is thinking long term and has been looking at ways to keep her qualifications up to date in the hope that she can accelerate her career when her daughter turns three and can access free childcare. She is doing management courses which she can flex around her family.

Ayo says flexible working is vital for her, because it enables her to work around her family demands. In addition to daycare costs, her oldest daughter is neurodivergent and she sometimes gets calls from her school to come in when she has emotional outbursts. Because her daughter suffers from delays in her speech and language development she finds it difficult to explain what she needs.

Ayo is just one of many mums who are facing financial problems as a result of the cost of living crisis. survey found over half of all mothers (52%) have debts outside their mortgage and student loan, with almost one in 10 owing more than £20,000. Some are trying to increase their hours or take on a side hustle to increase their income. 41% of mothers have increased their hours, and 42% have been forced to take on another job or side hustle to top up their wages. Almost a third (29%) have changed jobs recently in order to get more money. But for others, like Ayo, there is a tension between childcare costs and doing more hours. That makes flexible working more vital.

Returning to work

Ruli Khanum, who has four children aged 15, 14, 12 and six, agrees that flexible working is essential for her family. She took a career break in 2012 after having her third child when her work in the health sector moved further away. She started working with her husband on his restaurant business and was able to do that flexibly around her children, although it wasn’t really what she wanted to do.

Last year she returned to her career in health and started working for the NHS bank. Bank work means she gets some flexibility and says her employer is supportive if she can’t do certain shifts. She hopes eventually to become full time as her children get older. She speaks about falling behind during her career break and having to catch up and work her way back up now.

Going back was quite stressful after such a long break. “You have to train yourself again,” says Ruli from Birmingham, but she adds that she is now getting into the swing of things. “I feel human again,” she states. The bank work has not only helped her ease back into work, but it means she gets to see into different NHS departments and work with different teams. For instance, she can be working in the uniform department or as a ward clerk or in HR administration. She would, however, like to have one permanent job eventually to give her some sense of routine. For the moment, being back at work is still exciting.

Ruli adds that, although her children are growing up, she still needs to be around for them. Indeed, she says, the teenage years can be very difficult. Just before and during the lockdown her oldest child stopped eating her packed lunches and dumped the food in the attic. Ruli took her to the doctor because she was worried.

Ruli also has a side hustle selling household items which she enjoys. She is worried about rising costs and uses her credit card to manage and the family have cut back on things like holidays.  She feels she has little control over her finances. On the positive side she and her husband managed to fix their mortgage at a good rate during lockdown.

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