London parents ‘need more flexible childcare’

Lack of flexible childcare is one of the main barriers to women in London accessing paid childcare, according to research.

The research for the London Development Agency found that the main barriers to childcare uptake in the capital were lack of availability of places, cost, lack of information about childcare options and the benefits of childcare, perceptions about quality and flexibility of care. However, it said that childcare was not the main barrier preventing mothers from working.

It said around 60% of mothers in London work atypical (non-standard) hours. A substantial minority of these reported problems with finding suitable childcare to cover these. This, it says, suggests a lack of out-of-hours provision. Where it does exist, it adds, it is often more expensive. This is due to market forces making it less profitable for childcare settings to offer anything but core hours.

Cost is also a big issue since childcare fees in London are significantly higher than the national average. Prices vary significantly in London, but the report says they are around 25%- 35% more (as a result of higher staff and accommodation costs) than the national average. It states: “Research suggests that around a quarter of people in London find paying for childcare difficult with lone parents and low paid, larger families more likely to report price challenges.” It adds that many families who are eligible do not access tax credits.

The research says that while supply of childcare in London is significantly lower than the national average, the causes are complex and include higher numbers of women opting not to work. Whether this is a cause or effect of lack of available childcare places is unclear, it says.

The report says that the London Childcare market is worth an estimated £1 billion, and represents 18 per cent of total childcare spending in England. The growth in childcare places in London outstripped any other region in the country between 2003 and 2008.

It reports strong progress on tackling childcare barriers to employment over the past decade, although it says more targeted work needs to be done, for instance, to explain the benefits of childcare. It adds that parents appear more positive if information is couched in terms of early years education rather than childcare.

The report is being formally launched on 3 March. Click here for a copy of the full report.

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