Universal childcare could bring many mums back into the workforce, suggests poll

Eighty per cent of mums say universal free childcare would mean they could return to work as they can’t afford to now, according to a Workingmums.co.uk poll.

The poll of 438 working mums found nine per cent said they would be able to increase their hours, seven per cent said it would save them money but would not mean they would increase their hours and four per cent said it would make no difference to them as they don’t pay anything for childcare.

The Liberal Democrats recently pledged to provide 15 hours free childcare every week for all two year olds. Currently all three and four year olds and two year olds from the most hard pressed homes are eligible for 15 hours free childcare each week.

The Liberal Democrats say they want to go further and that in the long term they plan to extend this free childcare to all working parents from the end of parental leave. After this they say they would increase the 15 hours to the equivalent of 20 hours per week for all eligible families.

Promises on childcare are likely to be a feature on this year’s party political conferences. The Conservatives are offering a tax rebate on childcare costs from 2015 and Labour says it plans to extend free childcare to 25 hours a week for three and four year olds and to give a legal guarantee to parents with primary-aged children that they can access before and after-school childcare through their school. Labour shadow childcare spokesperson Lucy Powell has also spoken about her long term desire for a universal childcare policy.

One mum who took part in the Workingmums poll said: “I have two children and I have been unable to get back to work for two reasons: cost of childcare and being penalised for taking time off to have a baby. Recruiters in Aberdeen keep telling me that though I have the skills, qualification and experience they are unable to put me forward for a job for the time (3 years) I have stayed at home to care for my children. I find it unbelievable and highly discriminatory to have something like this said to a mum. One recruiter suggested I take up voluntary work to get back into the system, but I am unable to do that as I can’t afford to pay for childcare and I have no family to help out with children which leaves me stuck and very frustrated about the system! I find my degree and post graduate qualifications being buried and wasted. Aberdeen companies and recruiters are definitely not supportive of mothers returning to work.”

Several said they were finding it hard to get part-time work in their industry. One who works in IT said she faces working full time or leaving the industry and working part time on minimum wage. “What a waste of my experience,” she says.

Another stated: “I have been faced with redundancy while on maternity leave and with the type of work that I do it is unlikely that I will be able to find a part-time role for when I am ready to return to work. The alternatives are to work full time and pay someone half my wages to look after my child or to give up work to be a full-time mummy, living off benefits, neither of which I want to do. A complete waste of 15 years experience and my degree!”

Another simply commented: “I am currently on maternity leave. I cannot afford childcare and therefore am also looking to give up work completely and live on benefits –  something which I am reluctant to do. I’ve never claimed anything in my life and have always worked two jobs in order to get by. I feel depressed having to give up work, but at the same time I don’t want to leave my little girl either.”

One woman, who had had a career break, said if she went back to work she would end up spending three quarters of her wages on childcare and her family would be worse off than if she stayed at home since her partner’s wages are just above the level needed to get significant financial support. She was also struggling with finding hours that gave her the work life balance she needed. She said: “I don’t want to work every weekend and miss out on valuable family time, but can’t work evenings as my partner works long hours and has a long commute…”

Another said the standard of childcare was also an issue. She said: “The Government needs to introduce a nationwide childcare initiative so mothers are confident to return to work. I’m now in the position where I’m paying my nanny £130 a day including her tax and NI and looking at earning £180 a day. By the time I’ve paid my own tax and NI I’m taking home £30 a day with a University degree and 20 years of experience. Isn’t it time David Cameron took a look at the female voters?

A mum of three echoed this, saying she couldn’t return to work part time due to the cost of childcare. “My degree, 15 years experience in work, not to mention the life experience that goes with raising children, seem to mean very little to employers. I can only assume that government policy is as it is because of the male-dominated political scene in England. If men had to endure pregnancies, childbirth and the ensuing struggle to find the ever elusive worklife balance, I suspect policies would be slightly different…..”


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