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.