Childcare costs ‘forcing women to give up on their careers’

A woman working from home with a child
Its survey of 3,000 working parents of pre-school children found that one in 10 mothers had handed in their notice - Ellen Moran

Childcare costs are forcing women to sacrifice their careers to raise children, the president of the Girls’ School Association has said.

Marina Gardiner Legge told The Telegraph that women’s freedom to choose between work and looking after children has been eroded after “having fought so long, and so hard, to have a choice”.

She said: “The choice of returning to work with the rising cost of childcare is really difficult as salaries, especially part time, as well as the availability of childcare options, means that it is more difficult to work and cover childcare costs too. The balance of the choice of work and bringing up children is, in effect, being eroded.”

Ms Gardiner Legge, who is head of Oxford High School, will highlight childcare costs and availability as one of the barriers facing girls and young women in 2023 when she addresses more than 150 leaders of independent and state-run girls’ schools at the Girls’ School Association’s annual conference on Monday.

She will also use her speech to warn of the “motherhood pay gap”, “toxic workplaces”, “misogyny” and “sexual harassment”.

The cost of placing a one-year-old in full-time care costs around £14,000 a year, according to analysis by Coram Family and Childcare, a charity.

Marina Gardiner Legge
Marina Gardiner Legge: 'I don’t think we should tell young women what to do' - Steve Reigate

Earlier in November, research by the Fawcett Society found that about 250,000 mothers with young children had left their jobs over childcare pressures.

Its survey of 3,000 working parents of pre-school children found that one in 10 mothers had handed in their notice, while more than two-fifths had turned down a promotion or career development opportunity because they worried it would not fit in with childcare arrangements.

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, has announced a £4 billion plan to expand free childcare. The plan to make 30 hours of free childcare available to working parents of children under five by September 2025 is designed to help more parents into work. Currently the 30-hour funded places are only available to three and four-year-olds in working families. However, there are concerns about a shortage of nursery places and childminders.

Ofsted statistics show that there were 1.26 million childcare and early years places in England in August 2023, down by 17,800 on the previous year. Over the same period, the number of childcare and early years providers fell by 3,320 to 62,300.

Improvement in fertility education

Miriam Cates, the Conservative MP, has called for an improvement in education about fertility in response to the UK’s declining birth rate.

Ms Gardiner Legge said she didn’t think young women should be told to have more babies.

She said: “I don’t think we should tell young women what to do at all. I think we should give them the tools in order to lead illuminating lives to inspire the futures of everybody else.”

The head teacher will tell school leaders at the conference in the Cotswolds: “Our world desperately needs the voices and presence of women in every sphere. We do not need more people happy with the status quo – we need the power of the activist – the modern suffragette.”

The Department for Education said: “We are rolling out the largest expansion in free childcare in England’s history, saving hard-working families up to £6,500 a year.

“Our increased offer will be rolled out in stages ahead of September 2025 to give childminders and nurseries time to prepare and ensure there are enough places to meet demand.

“We are already investing hundreds of millions of pounds to increase hourly funding rates, and we’ll shortly be allocating £100 million in capital funding for more early years and wraparound places and spaces.”

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