When households need two incomes to survive, affordable childcare is vital – Susan Dalgety

As offices open their doors after 18 months of lockdown, and workers get back into the nine-five routine, the cost of child care has once again become a hot topic.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 12:30 pm
The cost of childcare in the UK is higher than in many other comparable countries (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Even with help from the government through child tax credit and the tax-free childcare benefit, Britain is one of the most expensive places in the world for childcare.

Families often spend more than their monthly mortgage on a patchwork of after-school care and holiday cover. Some parents – usually mothers – are forced to work part-time or give up work altogether because childcare costs outstrip their salary. And the £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit which is about to come in will make things even worse for many hard-pressed families.

A UK survey, commissioned by a range of organisations, including Mumsnet, revealed this week that 16 per cent of parents earning less than £20,000 a year were forced to use food banks because of high childcare costs. And 96 per cent say the government is not doing enough to support them.

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The Scottish government’s recent announcement of a new system of wraparound childcare for families on the lowest incomes is to be welcomed, but as with every public policy promise, the devil is in the detail.

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Most parents find that affordable and appropriate childcare for older children is less accessible than day-care for toddlers, so any new scheme should consider what works for 12-year-olds as well as infants.

And there needs to be far more thought given to the impact of affordable childcare on the economy. Large organisations and businesses should have to build wraparound childcare into their business plans. And flexible working – where practicable – should be a right, not just a public health tactic.

It is a fact of life that the economy depends on all of us working harder – and longer – than our parents and grandparents. People no longer retire at 60 (unless they are very fortunate); households depend on two incomes just to survive and women are as ambitious as their male peers.

But no government of the last 30 years, despite extravagant promises, has developed a childcare programme that suits babies and young teenagers alike and that parents can easily afford. Surely it is not too much ask?

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