Unpaid childcare 'could be worth £225bn a year'

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The Independent Online

Unpaid babysitters, the rag-bag army of parents, grandparents, neighbours and friends and friends' children, can finally hold their heads high as productive members of society alongside coal miners and factory workers.

Unpaid babysitters, the rag-bag army of parents, grandparents, neighbours and friends and friends' children, can finally hold their heads high as productive members of society alongside coal miners and factory workers.

Preliminary research published yesterday shows that if free babysitting were paid for, it would be an economic activity greater than the output of the UK's recession-hit manufacturing base.

Britain's statisticians have carried out what is believed to be the first estimate of the value of unpaid childcare.

The research is part of an exercise aimed at putting a value on all activities routinely carried out by households but which are ignored by mainstream economics.

The final index of household production will include chores such as doing the laundry, dusting and washing-up, giving a teenager a lift to a youth club, cooking a meal and volunteering to do the shopping for an infirm neighbour.

All of these tasks are not done in exchange for money and so do not appear in the National Accounts, the final estimate of economic output produced every three months.

National Statistics, a government department, has completed the first draft of a programme to assess one part of household chores – unpaid childcare.

The department's preliminary finding is that it could be worth as much as £225bn a year or 25 per cent of the annual economic output, currently just less than £1 trillion. Manufacturing is worth 22 per cent of the economy.

However, the researchers behind the project said childminding could be worth as little as 9 per cent, if different assumptions were used.

"We think it is important and we think it should be measured but we have to make assumptions and we want to know what other people think," said Sue Holloway, the author of the report.

Statisticians have had to work out how many hours of supervision – including time asleep – children of different ages up to 15 need. "Even when they are asleep someone has to be on call," said Ms Holloway.

They researched current pay rates for live-in nannies and childminders in order to calculate a comparative wage to apply to unpaidbabysitting.

Estimates for free transport and for unpaid voluntary work are expected to be published in December and the complete index of household production will come out in March next year.

National Statistics has already tried to work out how many hours households spend on their daily chores and at that time some analysts speculated that this would translate into a monetary value of £1 trillion – the same as GDP.

But the results will run alongside – rather than augment – the GDP figures, which aim to measure the value of goods and services produced by an economy.

The way GDP is calculated leads to anomalies such as the inclusion of self-build housing but the exclusion of the value of vegetables grown and consumed by that household.

The research was published as a campaign group called for greater recognition of the role that grandparents play in raising their grandchildren.

Family Rights Group, which is funded by the Home Office, found grandparents were often expected to step in after family crises such as a death but were seldom supported – emotionally or financially.

The report found that 71 per cent of grandparents suffered financial hardship as a result.

Separate research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that children are less emotionally damaged by their parents' separation if they have a close relationship with their grandparents.

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