Summer childcare shortages on the rise, England’s councils say

Only 24% of councils say there is enough holiday childcare in their area for parents who work full-time.

School children wearing backpacks

 

Less than a quarter of English councils say there is enough summer holiday childcare in their area for parents who work full-time, an annual survey shows. 

Councils also reported drops in the availability of summer holiday childcare across the board, spanning categories such as schoolchildren’s ages and parents’ working patterns, according to the report by the charity Coram Family and Childcare.

The survey found that 24% of local authorities had enough holiday childcare for parents who work full-time, a decrease of 2% since 2022. When asked about spaces for children of different ages, there were drops in every category up to those aged 14 (see table below).

The UK’s patchy and expensive childcare system is expected to be a significant issue in the run-up to next year’s general election. Both the Conservative government and the opposition Labour party have made major pledges in recent months about pre-school childcare for under-fives and term-time wraparound care for schoolchildren. 

But holiday childcare, which is also a significant issue for working parents, is yet to play a big role in the political debate. 

Coram data table

Most working parents do not have enough annual leave to cover the 13 weeks of holidays in the school year, six of which fall consecutively in the long summer break. Many families also do not have grandparents or other relatives living locally who can help out.

While some employers offer term-time contracts, with Amazon announcing in May that it would start providing this option, they remain rare outside the education sector.

Coram’s survey shows that this summer will be particularly tough for working parents of children with disabilities. Just 5% of councils said they had enough spaces to meet local demand for this group, down from 7% in 2022.

The charity has conducted its summer holiday childcare survey for 18 years. This year it received responses from 86% of local authorities in Britain.

‘A catch-22 situation’

Many families end up getting by with a patchwork of summer solutions that includes annual leave, some holiday clubs, and some help from relatives. Mothers in particular report that they often have to reduce or turn down work during this time – and, while some do not mind doing this, the problem is that they often have little choice in this regard.

The Out of School Alliance (OOSA), which represents 2000 providers of wraparound and holiday clubs, said in a statement that providers had been stuck in “a catch-22 situation” since the Covid pandemic. With more parents able to work flexible hours or work from home, providers were seeing falling demand for their clubs. This was forcing them to cut or close some services, reducing availability for parents in the weeks when they still needed holiday childcare.

“Without central or local government intervention this problem is unlikely to go away,” OOSA said. The alliance added that it might not be ideal for anyone in the family when parents tried to work at home with their children around, but it was understandable at a time when many households need to cut costs.

For many parents, holiday club fees are another barrier. A place now costs £157 per week on average in Britain, up 3% on the year, Coram’s report found. While families will be concerned about any increase, this is well below inflation and unlikely to help providers to stay afloat, OOSA said.

Working parents are eligible for some state support with holiday childcare costs, such as the tax-free childcare scheme for and specific measures for those on Universal Credit. The Holiday Activities and Food programme (HAF) provides support for children who qualify for free school meals.

In the Spring Budget, the government announced £289m in funding for wraparound childcare. Coram is calling for the government to increase and extend this funding to support holiday childcare. It is also calling for funding and training to create more spaces for children with disabilities.



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