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‘I spent my life savings on nursery fees’

As part of The Stack’s ongoing investigation into the state of childcare in Britain today, we’re launching a four-part podcast to ask what it would take to create the right support for parents during those early years

By Alexandra Jones

7 June 2021
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ll four episodes of The First Three Years are out now! Click here to listen and hit subscribe to find us on all major podcast platforms.

The UK notoriously has one of the most expensive early years childcare systems in the world, a fact which forces many women – who disproportionately take on the burden of care – into zero-sum choices.

Should they give up working altogether because it is more cost-effective than putting a child into a nursery? Should they spend their life savings on nursery fees just so they can keep working? Should they sell their home and move to the other side of the country, leaving behind friends and careers, just to be closer to grandparents who can help out?

These are some of the questions that the parents featured in The Stack’s upcoming podcast – The First Three Years: Why It's Time To Overhaul Early Years Childcare – are asking themselves.

Take for example Megan, a scientist and part of the team who helped develop one of the Covid vaccines that is now saving millions of lives. On finding out she was going to become a single mum, she quickly calculated that paying for nursery care would leave her without enough money for rent.

“My only option is to stop working altogether and go on benefits,” she said. “I’ve slogged for so many years to get to where I am in my career and now I’m facing five years out of work,” she says.

Or Regina, who for some months had to choose between buying food or paying for childcare.

When we launched The First Three Years project we thought it would be a simple equation: more free childcare equals an easier time for all. But as you’ll hear across the four episodes, we soon realised that government policies are just a small part of a far deeper problem.

As well as featuring moving, vibrant stories from parents, we speak to campaigners, neuroscientists, business leaders and early years entrepreneurs to try to work out what a perfect system would even look like.

Along the way we discuss everything from the mental health implications for parents who are struggling to afford childcare, to the ripple effect that lack of access to childcare has on wider society, and the role that big business could and should play in helping the parents in their workforce.

In her recent book Motherhood: A Manifesto, Eliane Glaser called motherhood “the unfinished business of feminism”. Underpinning Glaser’s argument is the hidden-in-plain-sight truth that despite the relative longevity of the feminist movement – depite the many waves across many decades – it has nevertheless failed to solve one of the most basic problems that women face when it comes to inequality: childcare.

With an early years system that is close to collapse, the time for reform is now.

The Short Stack

Much more needs to be done to help parents – particularly women – with early years childcare. Listen to all four parts of The First Three Years: Why It's Time To Overhaul Early Years Childcare now.

By Alexandra Jones

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