The lack of accessible and affordable childcare is one of the largest barriers to a woman’s career progress, and this has only been escalated by the pandemic with women shouldering the bulk of the extra care needed.
So what is the cost of childcare in the UK?
In the UK, the average cost of sending a child under the age of two* to nursery is:
£138 a week part-time (25 hours)
£263 a week full-time (50 hours).
In some areas, such as London, the average cost rises to £280 a week.
Nursery places are more expensive for children under the age of two due to them needing more individual care and more staff are required to look after children of those ages.
*After the age of two, childcare costs do drop and there are a certain amount of free hours you can claim – however you have to check your eligibility and these hours are often dictated by the childcare provider rather than the parent.
Does that mean those that work in childcare earn a lot?
A nursery worker earns on average £7 an hour according to payscale.com. That’s a median annual salary of under £15k and looking at the data, this does not increase with experience or length of service in the industry.
“Meanwhile, childcare workers are paid so badly that 1 in 10 are officially living in poverty. So, where is all that money going? It’s time for the government to commission an independent review of childcare funding and affordability.” – Vogue
Why is childcare so expensive in the UK?
Because we do not make the same state investment in the sector that other European countries often do.
“It all comes back to the inadequate funding that nurseries are currently paid for free childcare places – there needs to be a real step-change in funding to allow for proper pay across the entire nursery workforce or risk childcare on the cheap.” – Lovemoney
How does the cost of childcare impact women?
Maternity leave in itself is a large amount of time to take out of a career – so when a woman thinks about returning to work it’s often a difficult thought process with consideration and planning required. The main thing that will be looked at during this process is whether a return to work is worth it financially with some women finding their salary doesn’t even cover the cost of childcare and realising that staying at home with the child or children is more cost-effective than returning to work.
There is always a worry that taking time off from a career can affect your future employment options and earning potential, meaning it can be a difficult time for a woman when it comes to deciding whether to start a family or not, deciding whether to go back to work after having a baby or when considering childcare options and solutions. Most often than not it is the woman that has to make the compromises that affect her career.
What is being said about the topic?
In June, I spoke to Wave 105 radio station about the issue. They asked me what my thoughts were on the extortionate rates of childcare costs and how that impacted my life. I said:
“We just had our little boy, born in March, and I’m due to go back to work in December. The childcare costs work out at £45 a day (8:30 am – 2:30 pm) and works out at over £1000 a month in fees. It’s probably one of the main reasons we’ll only have one child, it’s a huge cost out of the monthly budget and we’re currently in the process of getting on the property ladder. I only took 9 months instead of 12 for maternity leave due to the low level of maternity pay, so I can certainly see why it puts a strain on women choosing between their career and family life. It’s safe to say that my gripe isn’t with the nurseries or the childcare providers themselves, they have a duty of care and of course, I want them to provide the best possible care to my child. And that costs money. They have training costs, they have to have the latest equipment and so on. At the end of the day, it’s an issue that lies with the government. I know there is some help towards childcare, a tax-free scheme that has replaced the vouchers for example, but there could be a lot more done to help parents like ourselves and help childcare providers earn what they should be being paid.”
The topic had hit the news headlines after Grazia and its parenting platform The Juggle launched a major new campaign with Pregnant Then Screwed, calling for a Government review of our childcare system.
“In Britain, we have the second most expensive childcare in the world: over 35% of the average family’s income. It’s little surprise that almost two-thirds of women who return to work after becoming mothers are forced to work fewer hours, change jobs or leave the workforce altogether due to the crippling costs.” – Grazia
With many people suffering financially due to the effects of the pandemic, it is clear that living costs, in general, are rising. The Coram Family and Childcare Trust found in their annual report that 25 hours of nursery care for a child under two costs an average of £138 per week, or over £7,000 per year – that’s 4% more than a year ago. For a child aged two, it now costs 5% more.
If you then compare this to other countries, it’s clear that the UK is behind the times. British women have a much harder time accessing affordable childcare that enables them to be a mother as well as a career woman. Countries that have got it right include Sweden who have capped childcare fees at 3% of parental income, Germany provides a state-provided nursery place at a low cost and Korea which has an entirely state-subsidised childcare system.
“The reason why childcare costs are so expensive to families is because of low subsidies from the government. European parents, in places like Denmark, Germany and France, enjoy hugely subsidised childcare. In the UK, we don’t. It’s not that there aren’t any subsidies at all – there are some – but they’re incredibly confusing, and takeup has been really low.” – The Independent
It comes as no surprise that women are delaying starting a family in order to get ahead in their career, or deciding that having children isn’t for them at all – due to the issues of childcare.
As women, we’re often led to believe that we can have it all – but in most cases, having it all means juggling a lot, making compromises or sacrifices at the determinant of our finances, careers, relationships and lifestyles. It’s not exactly what we meant when we said we wanted the same as men.
“You see, it was only once I had a child that I realised I couldn’t really afford him. At least, I couldn’t afford to work and have him. But neither could I afford not to work. This, of course, is the luxury of biological children and spontaneous pregnancies; nobody checked beforehand that I could pay for the job.” – Vogue
When it comes to choosing whether to work full-time, part-time or to be a stay at home parent, it’s a personal decision that will need to be thought through. The impact on your income and career are things that need to be considered, and it might be that you want to read up on all of the options, pros and cons before making your plan. There are lots of ways you can make it work for you, it just requires planning, research and fact-finding.