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Childcare costs forcing mothers to quit work

Three quarters (76%) of mothers who pay for childcare say it no longer makes financial sense for them to work, a study by mothers’ rights campaign group Pregnant then Screwed has shown.

A quarter of parents who rely on childcare (26%) said it now costs them more than 75% of their take-home pay, with one in three (32%) saying they had to rely on some form of debt to cover their childcare bill.

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Analysis from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found in June 2022 the average yearly childcare cost for a child under two years old had risen by 44% since 2010, from £4,992 to £7,212, a monthly bill of £600. 

Lauren Fabianski, communications director at Pregnant Then Screwed, said a lack of government support was responsible for the crisis.

She told HR magazine: “Mothers can’t pay to go to work — it doesn’t make sense.”

After years of underfunding from the government, and ever-increasing childcare fees, Fabianski argued many women had no choice but to leave the workforce.

While some financial support for parents is available from the government, such as 15 or 30 hours a week for children aged three to four, no support is available for parents of children less than two years of age. 

Fabianski added: “Childcare providers are desperately underfunded, with more than half saying they operated at a loss in 2022, and on top of this we’re seeing early years professionals falling below the poverty line due to low rates of pay. 

“The whole sector is on its knees, meanwhile we are haemorrhaging talented, skilled women from our labour market.”

To raise awareness for the issue Pregnant and Screwed has launched a campaign that will see the sound of a baby crying played on adverts on Spotify and billboards across London.

Kate Palmer, HR advice director at HR consultancy Peninsula, said employers could look at improving paternity leave as part of a support package for working mothers.

She told HR magazine: “Employers should consider enhancing paternity leave entitlements and encouraging shared parental leave, as well as supporting males with flexible working arrangements so they can share the responsibility of school pick-up and drop-offs. 

“Some organisations have created a culture whereby they are disapproving of men who collect and care for their sick child or relatives, but an environment such as this heightens the gender pay gap and creates disparity in the workplace, and should be avoided.”

And while employers may be anxious about letting people bring children to work, she said, other creative options are available to employers wanting to help their staff.

Palmer added: “Providing childcare vouchers, trialling a four-day working week and enhancing annual leave entitlements can enable working parents to reduce childcare costs. 

“Similarly, introducing contractual entitlements to grandparental leave can enable working grandparents to support parents with childcare responsibilities. 

“With 'unretirement' forcing more older workers back into the workplace, grandparental leave and other similar initiatives can be an effective way to support working parents whilst also attracting and retaining a new demographic of skilled workers, which acts as a win-win situation for all.”

Pregnant then Screwed polled a nationally representative sample of 3,540 working parents for its survey, which was carried out by Women in Data.