One in ten parents say childcare fees wipe out their daily take-home pay

11% of parents who use formal childcare say it now costs the same or more than their take-home pay per day, a  new Pregnant Then Screwed survey has found.

March of the Mummies protest for childcare reform


One in ten parents who use formal childcare say it now costs the same or more than their take-home pay per day, a survey has found, as pressure grows on the government to announce childcare reforms in this month’s Spring Budget.

Amongst parents who use professional childcare services such as nurseries and childminders, 11% had to cope with this level of costs, according to the survey released today by the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed. Over one in five parents (22%) said childcare costs wiped out more than half their household income.

UK families pay amongst the highest childcare fees in the world, largely because the state invests relatively little in childcare compared to other developed countries. The UK’s patchy and expensive childcare system has increasingly been in the spotlight over the past year, as the cost-of-living crisis has put a huge strain on families’ finances.

In recent weeks, Tory MPs and business lobby groups have joined calls for an overhaul of the sector, turbo-charging long-standing demands from families and campaigners. The Federation of Small Businesses this week warned the government that high childcare costs were increasingly forcing parents out of the workforce, and argued for a state subsidy for 30 weeks of childcare per year to be expanded to 45 weeks. The CBI, a lobby group that represents around 190,000 businesses, has voiced similar concerns this year. 

“Parents are at the end of their tether,” Joeli Brearley, founder and CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed, said in a statement. “Many have now left the labour market, or work fewer hours, because our childcare system has been abandoned by this government.”

Over 24,000 parents responded to the campaign group’s survey. A nationally representative sample of 3540 respondents was then selected from this pool to draw out the findings, in order to ensure balance across gender, region and social grade.

While childcare issues affect all parents, it is typically mothers who slow or halt their careers as a result. Around 1.7m women in the UK cannot work as many hours as they want due to childcare issues, according to a 2021 report by the Centre for Progressive Policy. Access to good-quality early-years childcare has also been shown to help children’s development.

A growing election issue

Childcare looks set to be a battleground in next year’s general election – Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has come under fire for not announcing any childcare reforms since taking office, while the Labour party says it would guarantee childcare from the age of nine months to 11 years if elected (although its plans are not yet fully costed). 

Pregnant Then Screwed’s survey found that, at the next election, 88% of families with a child under 16 and 96% of families with a child under three are likely to vote for the political party with the best childcare pledge.

In the meantime, parents face higher fees in the coming months, as nurseries, pre-schools and childminders struggle with rising costs and low government funding. Almost nine in ten childcare providers in England are probably or definitely increasing their fees this year, an Early Years Alliance survey found last month. The average planned fee increase was 8%. 

Childcare providers have struggled to balance their books in recent years and have repeatedly called on the government to provide more funding. Nursery closures have been happening disproportionately in poorer neighbourhoods, where families often need support the most. 

It is worth noting that many families do not use formal childcare. The latest official data, from 2021, shows that 32% of families with children aged 0-4 and 43% of families with children aged 0-14 do not use it. However this data does not break down the percentage of families who would like to use childcare but cannot access it, versus those who do not need or want to use it.

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