Parents are being forced to spend more than two-thirds of their salaries on childcare, according to a new survey, meaning for many it’s in fact cheaper not to work at all.
Families needing full-time nursery care for a child under two spend £263.81 per week on average, according to research by financial website, Moneytransfers.com. Even parents only needing part-time nursery care for a child under two will fork out £137.69 per week (for 25 hours) on average.
When children start school, their parents/carers still have to spend £62 a week on average for an after-school club five days per week, during term time. As many face the daily hardship of the cost of living crisis, the implications are far-reaching.
"The childcare sector is in a mess,” says Joeli Brearley, founder of the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign.
“Two-thirds of parents pay the same or more for their childcare as they do their rent or their mortgage and, as this new research shows, that's more than two-thirds of parents’ salaries," she explains. "This is a cost they have to endure to go to work and financially contribute to their family and the economy. Even worse, some parents are actually paying to go to work!”
If the cost of childcare means it isn’t financially viable for both parents to work, they may find themselves facing tough choices.
“The issue is that this [high childcare costs] is forcing a lot of women to become SAHM [stay-at-home mums] even if that wouldn't be their preference if they could afford to work,” writes one Mumsnet user.
“There's nothing wrong with choosing to stay at home with your kids, but there is something really problematic about low-key forcing women to stay at home with their kids, which unfortunately is what the current system does.”
While many people like to continue working to keep their career alive for the future, the decision is being made harder for them, thanks to disproportionately high childcare expenses.
“The cost of childcare is out of control,” writes another Mumsnet user, a view echoed by parents across the UK. “I have twin one-year-olds who go to nursery three days a week. It’s killing us and the price is only going up.
“When will something be done about this?” the poster continues. “My job doesn’t cover it and I’ve had to take extra work on out of hours to cover costs. We have no local family support.”
“The high cost of childcare is a real burden for UK families,” agrees the CEO of MoneyTransfers, Jonathan Merry. “It's no wonder that many parents are struggling to make ends meet. The government needs to do more to help families with the cost of childcare.”
Aside from being able to afford everyday essentials, high childcare bills can make saving for the future impossible – for instance, for your children’s university fees that could be up to £9,250 a year, according to The Times Higher Education.
“It's important for parents to start saving for their children's future as early as possible,” says Merry. “But with childcare costs eating up so much of their income, it's no wonder that many families are finding it difficult to put anything away."
Brearley, like many campaigners, is angry at the lack of childcare funding from the government. “Due to the government purposefully underfunding childcare subsidies, childcare professionals are paid less than someone flipping burgers in McDonalds,” she points out.
Nurseries have their own issues, with childcare a notoriously underpaid sector. “It’s not as if the nursery owners are raking it in – thousands have closed under the pressure of rising energy and food costs,” highlights Brearley. “We need an urgent intervention where the childcare sector is concerned. Enough is enough.”
The government does already provide some childcare funding for eligible families, for instance, up to 30 hours per week of free childcare for three and four-year-olds in England during term time, though many parents are only entitled to 15 hours per week, due to the salary threshold.
Some two-year-olds, depending on their family circumstances, may also be eligible for 15 hours per week of free childcare. These schemes are for families living in England, and similar provision is available in Scotland and Wales.
To highlight the impact of rising childcare costs, Pregnant Then Screwed has organised a nationwide protest on 29 October called March of the Mummies where 13,000 mothers will be demanding government reform on childcare, parental leave and flexible working.
The UK has the second most expensive childcare system in the world – and no one is taking that sitting down.