By: Pramod Thomas
Increased childcare funding is expected to feature in the UK government’s budget, in a bid to ease pressure on families and particularly women.
Childcare costs in the UK are among the highest in the 38-nation OECD, accounting for nearly a third (29 per cent) of a family’s income compared to just nine per cent in France.
That has led to a situation where some parents have been forced to give up work or drastically reduce their hours, with women often bearing the brunt, and the UK economy suffering too.
Natalie Ford said she had “no choice” when she had her son. “I had no idea how much nurseries cost,” she said. “It was a bit of a shock.”
She and her husband pay over £900 for a few days a week of childcare for their 19-month-old son — more than what they pay for their mortgage.
Nationwide, the average nursery bill is £285 a week for a child under two, and much more in London, according to the Family and Childcare Trust charity.
Ford, 39, from Brentwood in Essex, east of London, tried to negotiate more flexible hours and working from home with her company.
But when that was refused she had no option but to quit.
She now works as an executive personal assistant from home, while her husband, an insurance broker, also does some remote work.
Very little publicly funded help exists until a child is three. After that, the state pays for 15 hours of childcare a week, and twice that for low-income households.
But the money, paid to nurseries, often does not cover their costs, which have soared with inflation.
“My husband is a very hands-on dad,” said Ford. “He does pick-ups and drop-offs (at nursery) but I feel like, even in our situation, I’m the higher earner of the two of us, I have to make a bit more of a sacrifice than he would, being the mum.”
Actress Lucy Milnes, 40, has hardly worked since the birth of her second son two years ago but she said the situation was not sustainable.
So she and her husband decided to put him in day care three mornings a week, the minimum accepted by the institution.
Milnes hopes this will give her “time to secure more work” and break “a vicious circle”.
Government statistics last year showed that for the first time in at least 30 years, the number of women not working to look after their families rose by five per cent.
Among 25- to 34-year-old women, the figure was 13 percent.
Of those not working, 28.5 per cent said they were doing so to look after their families, compared to 6.9 per cent of men.