When it comes to expensive childcare, the UK is world class. In the developed world, only Slovakia and Switzerland have higher childcare costs, according to the OECD. And most British voters have noticed.
A majority of people in the UK – 60 per cent – believe that the cost of childcare is “unaffordable”, according to exclusive polling for the New Statesman conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies*. In an even more damning result, 70 per cent of respondents say that the high cost of childcare is a significant reason why mothers choose to be stay-at-home parents. More women (74 per cent) agreed with that statement than men (65 per cent).
The survey also found that a higher proportion of women, 66 per cent, were likely to say that finding a professional to look after your child is too expensive, compared with men at 53 per cent.
This gender disparity is noteworthy, given who does the bulk of childcare in this country. Of the 1.8 million single parents in the UK in 2019, 90 per cent were women, according to the charity Gingerbread. And – as has been reported ad infinitum – in heterosexual two-parent families, women on average do more of the housework and childcare than men.
To put the expense of childcare into perspective, almost two thirds of families in the UK say they spend more, or the same amount, on childcare as they do on rent or mortgage payments, according to a survey this year by Pregnant Then Screwed, a lobbying group, and Mumsnet. Rising nursery fees long predate the cost-of-living crisis: prices for children under two rose by 44 per cent from 2010 to 2021, recent analysis from the Trades Union Congress found.
The New Statesman’s new polling confirms “everything parents have known for the last decade”, said Sarah Ronan, the childcare project lead at Women’s Budget Group (WBG), a non-profit organisation. WBG analysis has found “childcare fees have increased at twice the rate of wages over the last decade”, she added.
“A broken childcare system conspires with pitiful parental leave and the gender pay gap to create a vicious circle where mothers are forced out of the labour market. In most cases that’s not their choice, it’s a choice made for them by our economy and government.”
Ronan added that the fact that fathers in the UK only receive two weeks of paternity leave, unless their employer provides a more generous allowance, “sets mothers up as the primary caregiver. In most heterosexual families, the mother also earns less.”
In such circumstances, it is mothers who often end up staying at home as it “makes more sense for that to be the mother as the lower earner and the one that has been home longer with the child”.
The number of women not returning to work is on the rise, following decades of decline, as the Times recently revealed. Yet mothers leaving the workforce are “just the tip of the childcare iceberg”, said Ronan. “We also have far too many mothers forced to work below their qualification or skill level and in precarious employment just to cope with the gaps in childcare provision. That’s not good for women’s financial stability, and it’s not good for an economy experiencing a labour shortage.”
*A weighted sample of 2,000 eligible voters in Great Britain were surveyed on 15 June 2022.
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