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Here’s how London’s next mayor can make a big difference for single parents

Making childcare affordable is therefore essential in for supporting more single parents back into work and ensuring that it pays to work.

By Dalia Ben-Galim

Thousands of single parents in London are being locked out of work due to the high cost of childcare. On average single parents in London spend roughly half their take home pay on a nursery place, where childcare costs are about a third higher compared to the rest of the country.  

Single parents want to work and many want to work more hours – but childcare costs are often prohibitive.  Analysis by Gingerbread shows that the employment rate for single parents in London has risen from 48 per cent to 63 per cent in the last 5 years, faster than elsewhere in the UK. But that the share of single parents in work drops significantly for those with pre-school aged children.

The government’s own analysis suggests that a third of single parents would work more hours if childcare was more affordable. And Gingerbread’s research shows that one in six working single parents in London working part-time want to increase their working hours.

Time and time again, single parents tell Gingerbread the challenges in balancing work and childcare. Liz from Greenwich said that she “had to give up a really good job because of childcare and have since turned down a job offer a couple of times… Balancing childcare and getting the right job is really quite challenging.” And Ife from Southwark had to scale back her hours because of the high costs and lack of provision during school holidays. Unfortunately, these stories are typical.

There is now a political consensus that childcare provision is essential for children, families and society. But questions remain on affordability, accessibility and quality.

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Ahead of London’s mayoral elections, Gingerbread is calling on mayoral candidates to support Upfront: A childcare Deposit Guarantee to tackle the upfront costs of moving into work / increasing working hours. Many single parents tell us that finding the money for the upfront costs – often a deposit, administration fee and a month’s fees in advance can be hard – especially when you haven’t been paid.

Thea from Haringey relied on her parents for the upfront costs. She says, “had to send my child to nursery a month early because of the settling-in period and to guarantee a place at the nursery… It was so expensive and cost £1,100-a-month, in addition to having to pay £200 in advance to the childcare provider to guarantee a place. This meant that I was forced to rely on my parents for the deposit and the first month of childcare until I was paid.”

Upfront is designed to plug a gap that’s currently not being addressed by any level of government or agency. To address one of the barriers into work, ahead of parents’ first pay cheque, the Greater London Authority would provide the nursery with the upfront costs that nurseries typically require to guarantee a place. As a deposit guarantee, rather than a loan it responds to shortcomings of previous schemes where parents have been reluctant to take on extra debt.

Making childcare affordable is therefore essential in for supporting more single parents back into work and ensuring that it pays to work. Our analysis shows that supporting single parents into work not only benefits families, but also the Exchequer. A five percentage-point increase in single parents’ employment rate could generate £436m-a-year as a result of increased tax revenue and reduced benefits.

There are 320,000 single parent families in London. Upfront doesn’t solve all of London’s childcare challenges, but it provides the mayor with a way to help London’s parents fulfil their potential, better support their families and contribute to London’s vibrant economy.


Single parent in London? Tell us what you think the next mayor should do, write to the candidates to ask for action on childcare – or join thousands of other single parents at one of our local groups.

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