By Hannah Connolly
n the UK 43 per cent of mothers have said soaring childcare costs have made them consider leaving their jobs, while 40 per cent say they have had to work fewer hours than they would like to for the same reason.
A landmark study conducted by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed and Mumsnet in March 2022 also identified that one-in-four parents have said that they are cutting down on food, heating or clothing to afford child care costs.
Currently the UK’s childcare system is the world’s second most expensive (behind Cyprus at 31 per cent), with the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development (OECD) data suggesting the net cost of parents raising two children between the ages of two and three consumes 29 per cent of the average UK wage packet. Elsewhere in Europe, net costs are staggeringly lower, in Germany and Austria, childcare costs consume one per cent and three per cent of annual income respectively.
Since 2010 the cost of childcare has risen by £2,000 according to analysis by the Trades Union Congress. Leading to the number of mothers unable to return to work rising by five per cent — the first sustained increase in 30 years according to The Guardian.
“One of the most frustrating and scandalous things about this crisis is that extortionate childcare fees are preventing many mothers from increasing their hours of paid work in order to be able to meet rising costs,” Sarah Ronan, the project lead on Early Years and Childcare Coalition at the charity Women’s Budget Group (WBG) told The Stack.
“Women still perform the lion’s share and it’s making them vulnerable to poverty. Research by the Centre for Progressive Policy estimates that there are 1.7 million mothers who want to do more paid work but can’t due to childcare issues. Those extra hours are worth in the region of £23bn in economic output. Investing in affordable, accessible childcare makes sense for families and the economy,” added Ronan.
In 2021, the WBG warned the government of the deteriorating nature of childcare infrastructure. In the 12 months since then, the charity has observed little improvements.
“There has been no concrete progress and with 4,000 childcare settings closing over the last 12 months alone it’s safe to say things are getting worse for providers and the families they serve.”
Though she reserved some optimism adding: “That said, it is encouraging to hear the main political parties talking about childcare. There may be disagreement about the solutions to the crisis, but there is a growing consensus that we all benefit from a well-functioning childcare sector and that’s a hopeful place to begin working from.”
‘With 4,000 childcare settings closing in the last year alone it’s safe to say things are getting worse’
Other alarm bells have been rung regarding the PM’s credentials. In the pandemic, Rishi Sunak was taken to court by Pregnant Then Screwed over a refusal to acknowledge maternity leave whilst providing support for self- employed women.
During the legal proceedings in 2020, Sunak, then chancellor of the exchequer, compared pregnancy to a bout of ill-health saying in parliament people have “ups and downs” in self- employment, “whether through maternity, ill health or others”.
A government source told The Telegraph in July the PM also blocked plans to make childcare funding more flexible for those on lower incomes claiming there would be more fraud as a result, dismissing former PM Boris Johnson’s plans for childcare.
Sunak’s track record paints a grim picture for parents as the country continues to grapple with the cost of living crisis, which is amplified for many parents due to the closure of some 4,000 childcare providers in the past year alone.
Sunak had pushed back the crucial autumn budget to 17 November instead of the expected 31 October as slated, causing widespread uncertainty for future childcare plans.
The Women’s Budget Group warned the biggest source of uncertainty for mothers in the UK is centered on the “revolving door that seems to have been fitted at the Department of Education”.
Adding, “There have been five education secretaries this year alone. Parents need to know the government is committed to taking action on this issue, that there is someone that is listening to them, and is prioritising action. It’s hard to feel that’s the case with so much political turbulence.”
The opposition argues the Conservative government has routinely neglected early years by axing Sure Start centres. First introduced by the Labour Party in 1998, these centres act as advice access points for child and family health, parenting, money, skills training and employment, with some locations also providing early year and full daycare for preschool ages.
Under Tory leadership more than 1,292 centres have been shut since 2010, meaning more than one-in-three locations no longer offer services to local families. In 2020, the Institute for Fiscal Studies calculated that Sure Start parenting and safety advice work was saving the NHS around £5m a year. There are now 2,308 centres left in the UK.
In a 2020 article for the Daily Mirror, the deputy leader of the Labour party, Angela Rayner detailed her reliance on Sure Start centres and the parenting course she took after the birth of her own son.
On the closures Rayner added: “While the Tories handed billions to big business and the banks, our kids paid the price for austerity.”
Over the 2022 Halloween weekend thousands of parents joined the March of the Mummies protest in multiple cities across the UK to demonstrate against the failing childcare system as tensions simmer ahead of Sunak’s budget.
The UK is missing out on £23 billion in GDP as a result of mothers being unable to work as childcare costs force women out of employment. This article is from the second edition of the Stack World Newspaper.
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