By Rachel Carrell
hen I saw the results of the Alliance survey, saying nearly half of parents thought the government didn’t do enough to support parents to access the childcare they needed during the pandemic, I have to say I wasn’t surprised.
“1 in 10 childcare workers rely on food banks, 1 in 8 earn less than £5 an hour and the average wage per hour is just £7.42”
Childcare hurts parents’ careers, their mental health and their relationships. Sadly for most families, most of the time, women bear the brunt of this, and most harshly, women who live in the most deprived areas of the country.
While much has been discussed about the lack of childcare provision for the early years, and the astronomical cost of it when it is available, there are two other major issues that I come across every day in my role as CEO of a childcare business that get far less attention.
The wrap-around childcare gap
There's a myth that childcare gets easier when children start school. But that simply isn’t true. In many ways, it becomes harder.
My kids finish at 3:30pm, I finish at 6pm. They get 13 weeks holiday a year. I get 5 weeks, my husband gets 5 weeks.
When I wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, about this early this year, I was, quite frankly, fobbed off. He told me that local authorities are required by legislation to provide childcare provision for working parents with children aged 0-14.
Any parent will know in reality this doesn’t happen.
Our own Koru Kids research tells us that 10% don’t have access to an after-school club, and 12% can’t afford to use them. It always amazes me that 23% of parents are forced to rely on grandparents to plug their childcare gaps once their kids are at school, which is impossible for people whose families live thousands of miles away (or who simply have lives of their own they want to live).
Take Laurlee’s experience of wrap-around care:
“I was a single mum and I left a job to run back and pick up my daughter, leaving before everyone else. I was the first in the office but I could only get in as early as I could after the school drop off. I didn't have spare cash at the time. I left to get a different role with a £15k pay cut because it offered flexibility - I could work from 8.30am-4.30pm without any stress. It was tough having to do that, I wanted to be able to reach for something aligned with my career goals, but that was the sacrifice that I made to not have that additional stress. I just didn't want people looking down their nose at me because I needed to collect my daughter.
Getting a place in before and after school care was a constant challenge. I would tend to try and book a week or a month in advance but I wouldn't always know for sure because I needed to manage things with my ex-partner and his work schedule, and often when I went to book a place there wasn't a place available. So I would need to leave work early, make up the hours or call on other mums. It was non-stop stress."
“23% of parents are forced to rely on grandparents to plug their childcare gaps once their kids are at school”
The childcare wage gap
The second unspoken issue is the complete lack of respect we have for childcare workers, and the low pay they receive.
According to Nursery World, 1 in 10 childcare workers rely on food banks, 1 in 8 earn less than £5 an hour and the average wage per hour is just £7.42.
Beth Mcroy is a former nursery room leader, and despite being one of the highest paid at the nursery she worked in, making ends meet was a constant struggle. “My best month was less than £1500, and for that I was doing ten hour days, four days a week, and overtime,” she says. She now runs her own childminding business, Playdays with B, in Salford.
I for one want more for the people who nurture our children.
Childcare is too expensive for parents. Yet too cheap for childcare workers
And what do both of these issues have in common? They both disproportionately affect women.
Our (mostly male) government underfunds the (mostly female) childcare system, and women pick up the slack - damaging their careers, their mental health and their income.
The childcare sector simply doesn't make good business sense. Over 2.5k childcare providers have closed this year and 1 in 10 childcare providers were running at a loss pre pandemic.
Childcare is essential infrastructure
When a service is essential to the infrastructure of our lives, to allow a country to grow economically, the government steps in to provide funding: schools, healthcare, roads, water pipes.
I have always argued that childcare is no different. It isn’t a sector that can easily innovate to support parents and workers without government help. To not fund critical infrastructure is to undermine our economic growth.
In a post-Brexit, post-Covid time, economic recovery is essential. And working parents are a crucial part of this narrative.
‘If only childcare was funded properly’.
If you want to sign our petition to raise awareness of this issue, you can do so here
Photos by Nora Nord
Rachel Carrell, founder of childcare service Koru Kids, unpacks the UK’s broken childcare system
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