UK fails on child care, says survey of over 20,000 working parents

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Tens of thousands of working parents say the government is failing them with inadequate child care policies that leave them financially crippled, stranded in their careers and desperate for radical change, according to a major survey.

The survey of over 20,000 working parents, which was shared with the Guardian and involved more than a dozen organizations, found that 96% believed ministers were not doing enough to support parents with the cost and availability of childcare while 97% said childcare in the UK was too expensive.

One-third of parents said they paid more for child care than their rent or mortgage. This proportion rose to 38% for people working full time or single parents, and 47% for respondents of black ethnicity.

Child Care Survey Graph

The inquiry comes ahead of a debate on child care in Parliament on Monday that was sparked after more than 100,000 parents signed a petition calling for an independent review of the funding and affordability of child care services .

OECD Child Care Comparison Chart

According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK has the third most expensive child care system in the world, behind Slovakia and Switzerland; a full-time place costs an average of £ 12,376 per year.

Research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that between 2008 and 2016, the cost of childcare for a one-year-old grew four times faster than wages in England. In London, it was more than seven times faster.

Childcare costs have risen four times faster than the wage chart

Warnings that the early childhood sector is at risk of collapse have been largely ignored and morale is at an all-time low: a Nursery World study found that one in ten female educators live in poverty.

Justine Roberts, Managing Director of the Mumsnet Online Forum, said: “This is a problem that has been lurking in plain sight for years, and parents know exactly how much they fail. The government must not ignore the misery and insist on this problem for parents across the country. “

The survey found that the hardest-hit people had the lowest incomes, universal credit, were single parents, had a disability, or were of black ethnicity. One in three parents with a household income of less than £ 20,000 had to cut back on essential food or shelter due to childcare bills, while four in 10 single parents had to use credit cards to pay essential items.

Ninety-two percent of parents said the cost of child care affected their standard of living, while 50% said the cost was either totally unaffordable or had a substantial impact. Ninety-four percent of parents who changed their work habits after having children said child care expenses were a factor in the decision.

The survey also revealed how much parents relied on family for childcare – while 75% used private nurseries for childcare, 56% of parents said they relied on grandparents for help. Overall, the survey found that 99% of all respondents agreed that childcare services should be recognized as a vital part of the UK’s economic and social infrastructure.

Joeli Brearley, founder of the Pregnant Then Screwed charity, said: “All we want from government is transparency. The cost of child care continues to rise, forcing more parents out of their jobs, and the quality of our early years facilities is declining, which will have serious long-term consequences for all of us. We do not think the government has any idea of ​​the magnitude of the problem and the impact it is having on families and the economy.

The survey was produced and distributed by Mumsnet, Pregnant Then Screwed, TUC, Fawcett Society, Women’s Budget Group, Gingerbread, Working, the Fatherhood Institute, Maternity Action, Music Football Fatherhood, Mother Pukka, Tova Leigh, Black Mums Upfront, the Young Women’s Trust and Cathy Reay (that single mom).

The data, unweighted, was collected from 20,046 parents in the UK with at least one child aged 18 or under, taken between July 20 and August 31, 2021 – with 97% of respondents being female.

He presented compelling evidence that the lack of access to child care services impedes progress on gender equality. Only 16% of women said childcare did not affect their tenure or income at work, compared to 42% of men. Of the women surveyed, 83% said the cost and availability of child care affected mothers more than fathers; 41% of men surveyed said it affected parents as well. Two-thirds of women surveyed reduced their hours after having a baby, compared to 26% of men.

Felicia Willow, Executive Director of the Fawcett Society, said: “Our government cannot drop the ball on this – it is clear that the lack of access to child care is preventing women from both d ‘go to work and progress at work. “

The survey also suggested that the government’s flagship policy on shared parental leave was a particular failure; only 17% of respondents said it was useful for their family.

Ros Bragg, Director of Maternity Action, said: “The deeply flawed shared parental leave has been about as helpful to working parents as a chocolate teapot. The participation rate among eligible families is now less than 4% in its fifth year of operation. It is clear that we have to start over.

Elliott Rae, Founder of Music Football Fatherhood, said: “Exorbitant childcare costs reinforce traditional gender parenting roles and make it difficult for fathers to have flexibility in their jobs and be fathers. fully active and engaged. “

The survey suggested that respondents wanted a radical overhaul of the childcare system: 90% of all parents supported at least three months of ‘use it or lose’ parental leave for fathers, paid for at least at the minimum wage level, while 94% believed that subsidized childcare should start as soon as paid maternity leave ends.

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, said: “We don’t want to tinker around the edges. Our broken parental leave system needs a complete overhaul.

The Department of Education said parents’ ability to claim 30 ‘free’ hours per week during school time for three and four-year-olds could save them up to £ 5,000 per year and the number of child care spaces offered by providers was stable.

A spokesperson said early childhood providers had received financial support during the pandemic and the government had invested £ 3.5 billion a year in child care since 2018, adding: ‘We are making millions more available through our stimulus fund to improve children’s early performance, further improve the quality of preschool education.


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