Childcare: the cost of loving

The price of childcare in the UK has risen by 19 per cent in a year – so how do other countries manage to keep it relatively affordable?

In December, I visited Downing Street with a group of "mums in business" to speak to Daniel Korski, the Prime Minister's special adviser, about what was needed to help mothers to get back into work. Every woman gave the same answer: affordable childcare – that omnipresent financial burden which affects all but the élite few who can afford live-in, on-tap care.

I work freelance from home, and have done since my son was born, 10 and a half years ago. In those very early days, it was my choice to work that way, but once my son turned four and a half and started school, the decision was made for me – I could not afford to take a full-time, office-based job because the cost of before-and-after-school care would make it barely worthwhile.

A decade on, little has changed – I still can't afford to work away from the house, and many mothers of my acquaintance tell me it is more financially sound for them to stay at home and not work at all, while others say childcare is the biggest issue that holds them back in the workplace, that increasing their hours or going for promotion would be pointless by the time they'd factored in childcare costs.

It was hardly surprising, then, to read the results of a recent survey from childcare providers findababysitter.com that revealed that childcare costs rose by an average of 19 per cent in the year to December 2013, with the cost of nannies alone escalating by 25 per cent on 2012's figures.

So what is the answer? Whose responsibility is it to provide families with adequate and affordable care for their children? The Coalition's promise of £1,200 tax-free childcare per child for families who earn up to £150,000 is all well and good, as long as there is cost-effective, local and reliable care on which to spend it – and care that is available when parents need it.

To me, the most obvious solution would be for more onus to be put on employers – particularly corporates – to provide assistance to their parent workforce. How often do we see big businesses wooing potential employees with their state-of-the-art gym facilities, interest-free travelcard loans and dress-down Fridays? Frequently. But an on-site crèche, after-school club, or flexi-working for parents? Rarely.

We live and work in a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week society and childcare is no longer just something that "mums" might need for an hour or so before or after school to enable them to do a part-time job, especially when the average after-school nanny charges £10 per hour. The Swedish model perhaps best reflects how modern living needs adaptable childcare – their public nurseries open from 6am to 6pm, with many local councils also providing affordable overnight and weekend services.

And looking at Europe as a whole, we can put in perspective just how expensive care is here in the UK. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's 2011 report, Doing Better for Families, only in Switzerland do parents pay more for childcare, with 26.6 per cent of the average British family's income being spent on it. The knock-on effect is that only 67.1 per cent of all UK mothers go out to work, compared with 84 per cent in Denmark, 78.5 per cent in the Netherlands and 73.6 per cent in France.

There will always be those in the "you choose to start a family" camp, who will never understand why childcare costs are anybody's concern other than parents'. But it is simple – it is a cyclical thing: the economy needs parents to return to work. Working parents provide jobs for those nannies, childminders and nurseries, who then care for, teach and nurture the future workforce. But that cycle can complete only if care is affordable – perhaps even to the point of being means-tested (it works for Sweden – parents do not pay more than 3 per cent of their salary for preschool care) – and available for all. And at the moment, it most definitely is not.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions