'I can't afford to work and pay for my children's care'

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Rose-Marie Baldry, 37, is a single mother and journalist keen to return to her career. Unfortunately for her, lack of cheap childcare means she cannot afford to take a job she really wanted.

Ms Baldry has two sons, Tommy, three, and Ryan, five. She is an experienced journalist, the former owner and editor of a lifestyle magazine in Zambia. She does not regret returning to Britain – she now lives in Nottingham – but resents being forced out of work because her childcare costs would outstrip her salary.

"I was offered a job with the Essex County Standard," she says, "but I had to turn it down because it just wouldn't have been enough to pay for the full-time care of Tommy and after-school care for Ryan. It would have cost more than £500 a month."

She also had to refuse an offer of a place on a masters course at Nottingham Trent University because she could not afford the childcare for the days she would have been attending full time.

"I have been forced on to income support," she says. "I could work freelance, but I am allowed to earn only £15 over what I get on income support. I would have to use a pseudonym and I don't want to work dishonestly."

Her elder son's infant school has just two registered childminders, who, she says, are oversubscribed and rarely available. "The childminders have you over a barrel. They charge whatever they want by the hour because there just aren't enough of them."

As a divorcee, supporting her family alone, she feels discriminated against. She thinks that council tax rates are unfair, as they are fixed per household, regardless of how many people live together. "If you live with another adult, you can share the council tax payments, but I have to pay it all myself. The income support covers bills, but there is nothing left over. I have to buy my children's clothes at charity shops."

She believes that the Government is slow to catch up with employment trends, but uncaring employers are also to blame for the scarcity of childcare.

"More and more women are going to work, but not enough childcare provision is made to account for that. More employers should offer crèches," she says. "Or give three years of maternity leave," she adds with a laugh.

This idea is not so absurd in the rest of Europe, where several countries offer precisely that.