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Business must help tackle the childcare dilemma

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Childcare is keeping parents out of work. What should businesses do?

Nearly a quarter (23%) of British mothers who are not in paid employment cite childcare costs as the main reason they are unable to enter the job market, a report by the Family and Childcare Trust and Parental Choice has found.

The Family and Childcare Trust’s annual Childcare Costs Survey also found that nearly half of families where one or both parents are not working full time want to find work or work more hours.

The report revealed that childcare costs for under-fives have risen by 27% in the last parliament. Availability has also deteriorated along with affordability, with just 43% of councils in England reporting childcare provision that meets demand, down from 54% in 2014. This figure falls to 14% for parents who don’t work nine to five.

Insufficient and expensive childcare is hugely impacting parents’ – particularly mothers’ – ability to work, both the Family and Childcare Trust and Parental Choice said. They called on the government to continue its push to tackle childcare costs and availability.

The organisations also called on business to take more steps to ensure parents aren’t pushed out of work, with compressed hours working, home working and flexible start/finish times all cited as ways of supporting childcare arrangements.

“There are very real business benefits to supporting people through the transition to being parents,” said managing director of diversity, employee engagement and employee relations head EMEA at Citigroup Carolanne Minashi, speaking at the survey launch event.

“For us the business case for supporting working parents is really simple. It’s so we have the best talent in the company. However, great policies will only get you so far and are quickly replicated by the competition,” she said, explaining that understanding and supportive line managers were most important, with these conditions “almost impossible to replicate”.

“Twenty-five per cent of women who go on maternity leave don’t return. The cost of replacing these staff can be a mammoth £25,000 to £30,000,” added Julia Margo, CEO of the Family and Childcare Trust.

Minashi reported that offering near-site crèches in the past had limited popularity with Citigroup staff, due to employees’ reluctance to bring young children on public transport, and them being of limited use for families with children of different ages.

Also speaking at the event, CEO of Money&Co Nicola Horlick agreed onsite crèches weren’t the solution because inner-city spaces are not “good environments for children". She praised a firm she’d come across that offered mothers returning after maternity leave a bonus. “That’s a great idea,” she said. “Lots of organisations could afford that.”

Citigroup’s Minashi added that employers offering equal maternity and paternity pay is crucial. She reported that contrary to previously released statistics stating that only 4% to 8% of dads would be interested in taking extended paternity leave, Citigroup's employee survey found 30% would be interested, with 80% of mums willing to share this leave.