The other day a mum of two wrote to Workingmums.co.uk. She works for a local authority and used to be able to work from home for some of the holidays and when her children were sick. Now her department has banned working from home on a regular basis or for whole days. Her children are 10 and 13. Childcare for that age group is difficult. Her 13 year old doesn’t want to be the oldest child at some holiday playscheme. Nevertheless, technological advances mean working from home is becoming easier and her children want some unstructured time at home over the holidays.
She is angry. She says her manager makes no distinction between very young children and older children who are more independent. Her options are to try to find childcare, use up all her annual leave in the summer which is not enough to cover the school holidays or to leave her oldest child home alone.
It’s a situation that is not unfamiliar to many parents who struggle over the summer holidays. Many pre-teen children are likely to be spending at least part of the holidays home alone as a result. Summer holiday childcare can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and it is even more difficult if you can’t understand your employer’s inability to make the few concessions that could make all the difference.
A recent report from the Family and Childcare Trust found that the number of available childcare places over the summer has dropped significantly.
The Trust’s annual Holiday Childcare Survey shows that the vast majority of local authorities – 87% of local authorities in England and 95% in Wales – admit that they simply do not have enough holiday childcare to meet demand. In Scotland, just three local authorities had enough holiday childcare for working parents, and over a third did not even have relevant data to analyse the situation in their areas.
The Trust says the gaps in holiday childcare provision are increasing significantly, with the number of English local authorities lacking sufficient childcare for working parents. Some 28 local authorities in England, 13 in Wales and four in Scotland have severe shortages of childcare – affecting an estimated 1.5 million children.
Despite recent Government efforts to make childcare more affordable, the Trust says the average price of one week’s full-time holiday childcare is now £123.49, up 7.8% in the last 12 months. In the last five years, prices of holiday clubs have risen by nearly 25%.
The report sets out a number of measures that could ease the burden on parents across Britain, including funding support for providers to help with their start-up costs and business sustainability and making sure local authorities produce accurate and timely online information listing holiday clubs and activities for parents.
Launching the report last week, Stephen Dunmore, chief executive at the Family and Childcare Trust said: “These are worrying findings at a time when the Government is pushing through its ambitious and welcome plans to make childcare more affordable for parents. It is time for action on the Cinderella service that is holiday childcare, otherwise many parents will struggle to hold down a job or find their summer plans in tatters.
“Local authorities must be supported in their market management to stop the decline in childcare places so that all parents have the access to childcare that they so desperately need.
“We are also calling on the Government to make sure there are no further delays in the roll out of Tax Free Childcare so that this vital support is available to parents as soon as possible.”
Some employers are picking up the slack and, where possible, allowing staff to work more flexibly over the summer holidays. Others have come up with a more creative approach. Deloitte recently implemented an agile working programme which includes an initiative for employees to request one month off unpaid at any time in the year. It says many of the requests it has received have been from dads, with parents weighing up the cost of unpaid leave versus money saved on, for instance, summer holiday childcare. Some part-time staff have also considered increasing to five days a week as a result of the ability to take one month off. Deloitte says that with proper planning, continuity of business has not been adversely affected.
Of course, this approach would not work for all, but it does at least show an employer addressing the logistical problem faced by parents over the summer.