Working mothers look set to face difficult a summer of juggling as nearly two-thirds do not have enough childcare for school summer holidays, according to new research.
The survey, carried out by the TUC and the campaign group Mother Pukka, of 36,000 working mothers, highlighted the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women, and in particular, working mothers trying to juggle both work and childcare.
It comes ahead of the easing of all restrictions next week, when the government’s guidance to work from home will lift, meaning more parents could be expected to return to their workplace.
The poll reveals a huge 63% of working mothers with primary school-aged children say they do not have sufficient childcare for the summer holidays, with the figure rising to 76% for single parents.
Figures also show that three in five (60%) of working mothers will find managing childcare more difficult over the summer holidays this year compared to previous years, with nearly a fifth claiming they have already used up all their annual leave to manage school closures over lockdown.
The pandemic is impacting other aspects of holiday childcare too, with around one in eight saying they do not have access to their usual holiday clubs or school play-schemes because they have not restarted.
Almost half (48%) of respondents plan to use some form of flexible working to help them manage childcare over the holidays, with two in five (39%) combining working from home and childcare.
But for some working mothers, their only option is to lose out on income in order to manage childcare over the holidays.
Around one in eight mums said they will have to take unpaid leave over the period, and the same proportion said they would need to reduce their hours.
Why are mothers facing a summer childcare crisis?
The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said the impact of the pandemic has left working mothers facing a "huge challenge" this summer in terms of childcare.
“Women have borne the brunt of the pandemic, on the front line in key worker roles and at home. Working mums picked up the lion’s share of caring responsibilities while schools were closed, with many sacrificing hours and pay to do so," she says.
“While restrictions may be lifting and ministers talk about us getting back to normal, working mums are still feeling the impact of the pandemic,” she said. “It shouldn’t be this difficult. If ministers don’t act, we risk turning the clock back on generations of progress women have made at work.”
Watch: Cameron Diaz and Katherine Power on the impact of COVID on working parents.
Rachel Carrell CEO and founder of Koru Kids and host of child development discussion group Bringing Up Great Kids believes the childcare issue mums are facing this summer could also stem from the fact that the role of childcare and/or organising of childcare has traditionally fallen to the mother rather than the father.
"Childcare is still seen as women’s work, so it’s no surprise that women feel the burden of summer childcare more acutely than men," she explains.
But Lauren Emmanuel, AKA Lauren the Nanny, childcare and behavioural expert at Kendamil believes lockdown has kickstarted a reduction in the gender divide with many fathers playing more of an active role in childcare.
"A silver lining to the pandemic is that these roles have started shifting," she explains. "There’s been in a 58% increase in childcare undertaken by men, so the gender gap has narrowed in that sense."
The lifting of restrictions could also have a role to play in the childcare concerns.
"This summer there may be increased issues with childcare as everything is re-opening again and employers are expecting their staff back in the workplace, all in line with the kids’ summer holiday - not the best timing to say the least!" Emmanuel continues.
"The pandemic has exposed the difficulties of childcare to many parents, so there will likely plenty who wish to be back to normality with work.
"Some dads might decide that they go back in to work, and this may influence mothers to feel it’s better for them to continue working from home to be able to take over childcare or have the flexibility to do drop offs and pick-ups from holiday clubs.”
So what can be done to resolve the issue?
Carrell believes the government need to do more to ease the childcare burden.
"Our inadequate childcare system is severely underfunded by our government," she explains. "Probably because it’s a system that tends to support women, designed by a government that is dominated by men.
"The maths simply doesn’t add up: two parents get on average 10 weeks holiday and children get 13 weeks, yet there is no provision for working parents over the summer holidays," she continues. "Life is even more difficult for the thousands of single parents."
Carrell suggests finding other parents in the same situation to try to share resources.
"You can also try to lean on summer camps where you can (local councils often have affordable options)."
If parents are struggling with finding childcare this summer, Emmanuel also recommends speaking with other parents from school or nursery or even asking the childcare providers themselves if they have any camps or clubs on or know of any.
"I would also suggest having open conversations as parents about sharing the childcare as fairly as possible - whether this be taking the same number of days of from work, or somebody taking the drop-off and the other picks up," she adds.
The TUC and Mother Pukka have started a petition calling for 10 days’ paid carer’s leave for all parents and have called for a legal right to flexible work for all workers from their first day in a job, as well as major investment in childcare.
But even if this is granted by the government it is unlikely to help working mothers - and fathers- facing childcare woes this summer.