Wednesday, 7 September 2011

How much is childcare costing you?

Childcare, for any working parent, is a massive expense. I was gobsmacked when I first learned how much it would cost. Yes, of course, child care workers deserve a decent income and we want trained professionals - that's not the issue, it's about the fact that there is little support available and that the sheer upfront cost is a real barrier for many families.

Today, the Daycare Trust and Save the Children are launching their campaign on the cost of childcare. You can take part in it and please do, and please also share it amongst your families, friends, networks if you are behind it. Because, for many families, childcare costs are the single highest monthly expense - not even topped by mortgage payment. And what's worse, for many families work doesn't actually pay if you have children that need cared for.

Yesterday, as a member of the Daycare Trust parent panel, I was interviewed on this issue. Now, to be fair, we've managed ourselves a good deal what with council nursery for most days and both children (council nurseries are significantly cheaper than private ones). In fact, we probably pay half of what we would if the children went to a private nursery or a childminder which for most parents is the only available option. And still, even at paying half the current cost of having two children attending child care, our highest monthly expense is indeed childcare.

The journalist made me calculate how much we'd spend in total just on our eldest by the time she'd start school. The sum was £24,000 - and that was me forgetting to add the year still to come! So it's probably closer to £30,000 and that's not even for 5 days a week.

At the same time, it's been shown that investing in early years has the best outcome for societies as a whole, with the most equal and happy societies, with least crime and violence, least health inequalities, being the Scandinavian countries (where you get longer paid maternity leave and where pre-school care is heavily subsidised by the state).

It's not that the government doesn't support low income families in the UK. But the support doesn't go all the way and it's paid in retrospect through a system that is so complex that I don't know a single parent who doesn't struggle with it or is sure they're getting what they should be getting.

I did my own sums and found out that if I were to give up my job, I'd be just over a couple of hundred pounds worth off. So I'm working almost full time for £200. Ok, it's only until next August, when school starts and childcare costs will come down, but still. Are those £200 in my pocket worth the nightmare of nursery runs on top of work, the race to get dinner on the table and the kids to bed at a decent time? I've asked myself that question more than once in the past year.

For me, the answer was yes, because I love my work. But it the answer didn't come easy and it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that the research shows that many parents are giving up work because of the burden of childcare cost. 


Anonymous said...

Really interesting post. I decided not to go back to my full time job when my daughter was born, simply because the cost of childcare meant I'd have £300 in my pocket at the end of the month. I went freelance instead, working during school holidays (my husband's a teacher, so free daddy daycare during hols) and working from home during term time. I'm lucky I had the option to do this as I don't know how we'd have survived if I hadn't.

Ironically, I now work part time and end up bringing more than double (sometimes triple) home at the end of the month, as I don't have to fork out on childcare.

That said, there are some months when I may do a week's work somewhere just to get it on my CV. But it's certainly not for the money, as once the childminder and travel costs have been paid there's little left for me!

Melissa said...

I also went freelance after my maternity leave ended, because I couldn't justify leaving my daughter in daycare/preschool 40 hours a week for the fraction of my paycheck I'd get to keep. She goes to preschool half-days and I spend a good deal of time working during naps and in the evenings, but it definitely pays off. I end up working about halftime in a good month (taking it easy since am about to have our second) and spending 1/3 of that income on childcare. Two kids in full time care would be significantly more than my old full-time salary and I'd definitely have to quit if I hadn't already!

Seaside Belle said...

I just blogged on this same subject. I've been paying to go to work for the past two months (summer holidays so no free hours for my 3 year old!).

I had to request flexible working and go part time because we just couldn't afford for me to work full time - childcare costs were more than my income. As a result, I'm no longer responsible for my department and feel like I've been effectively demoted.

I love my job and I needed to feel like I still was gaining experience and had my hand in (for networking reasons if nothing else). But these are the only reasons I returned to work at all.

Lara said...

I too have managed to negotiate a three day return to work so as to keep childcare costs down. I, however, had forgotten that this would then affect my six year old (as school finishes at three and I finish work at five thirty) and now have to factor in the cost for before and after school care too plus her change to school dinners (or she will be starving by the time I pick her up at six (believe you me she likes her food!). My salary will be half what it was before I went on maternity leave but like many others that half a salary is better than no salary when you need to keep a roof over your head and food in your mouths. Something really does need to be done to get those childcare costs down.

Joanne Mallon said...

It's a tough one, but isn't paying for childcare part of the package if you're a working parent? We chose to have these kids and do these jobs, and part of us making choices like that as independent adults is that you have to take responsibility for the consequences of those choices.

I wouldn't like to add up what I've paid in childcare over the years, especially when my children were small. And the other end of it is the lost wages that I have experienced in order to work less and keep childcare time to a minimum. Having children is a costly business whatever angle you look at it from, but the benefits are priceless.

John said...

Childcare is a nightmare and its sad that many parents wish the first few years away so the kids can start school and save some money. Where we live it is so expensive that my wife was unable to work for many years and the childcare costs were more than the salary so a no brainier really.

The downside is the added pressure it puts on the working parent, which sometimes means they work longer hours and miss out.

Jules H said...

I was lucky in that I only had a small overlap of having both kids at nursery. Now I'm going full time (youngest is 2) the childcare is obviously going to go up. And I have some after school care to pay for too (my nursery does pick ups of eldest daughter too). It is really tough juggling everything - but we did know about childcare costs when we were planning having a family, so we did kind of expect this.

I do think the state should help low income familes. I was speaking to another friend who is going to see a very small wage packet coming in after the childcare cost for her twins. BUT we both agree there were other factors to take into account:

1) The childcare obviously comes off both parents wages, not just the mothers
2) The social contact and empowerment you can get from work (note: CAN get!)
3) The bigger picture: continuing to work means that when the childcare costs finally do come down, you've sustained your career rather than starting over as many women do
4) Shared, community childcare seems a good thing, not so unnatural as it sounds, and I really think if you and your child is happy with the nursery then there is a lot the child can benefit from.

In the LONG term I decided that I'd be much better off working. I just try to enjoy the time I have with the kid as much as possible and not wish away the early years.

Interesting post :0)

Medea said...

Excellent campaign, thanks for introducing it.

Childcare costs account for 90% of my husband's salary at the moment. It's very frustrating.

In Japan we are doubly hit, as stay at home wives (not husbands!) get huge subsidies not available to workers, no matter their income. So my mother-in-law works at a "part time" job for 50 hours a week to take home what her co-workers who are registered housewives take home in 5 hours, just because they are married. It's really discriminatory.



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