In the real world, few are celebrating

Jonathan Brown meets parents juggling jobs and childcare at a Newcastle nursery

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The Independent Online

Rush hour at Jesmond Nursery, in one of Newcastle's leafier suburbs, and the car park is filling up with people carriers as parents dash in to collect their children on the way home from work.

This is the demographic courted by politicians as Britain's loyal army of "hard-working families". Yet while much of their attention on yesterday's Budget was focused, naturally, on the future of child benefit, for the mothers and fathers juggling jobs and childcare, the issues stretched far beyond, into the travails of the wider economy.

Student nurse Nicola Palmer, 21, was collecting her daughter Chloe, two. She said she and her partner would benefit from the increased lower tax threshold but the few hundred pounds extra this would glean would be swallowed up by their outgoings.

Between them, they currently get by on £10,000 a year; £6,500 from her nurse's bursary and the balance made up by her partner, who despite graduating last summer in finance and investment management is barely turning a profit working for himself.

She agreed that the very well off had often worked hard to achieve high salaries, although not all of them – and that they didn't merit a tax break when so many others were struggling. "Sometimes people at the top end do a lot less than I do for not even a quarter of their salary," she said. "I still graft hard but as a nurse I will never earn anything like that amount of money, ever."

In the car park, Michael Johnson, 42, who has two children including a seven-month-old, said the region's economic woes were brought home last month when he lost his job in sales and marketing.

Since then he has yet to get an interview and, with his wife on maternity leave, the young family are struggling to make ends meet. He is considering retraining as a teacher.

"I had a relatively good job with good pay but what we get in benefits does not cover anything. The mortgage is double what we receive and there is no help with childcare. You just don't realise how little you get when you are made redundant," he said.

The sense of middle-class anxiety was evident among all parents. "I work within the NHS but I don't know if there is any such thing as a secure job any more," said Carol Ellen Starkie, 38, a doctor and mother of two whose husband is self-employed.

Each works four days a week so that they can be there for their children. "The people that are earning more should pay more yes, but the Government should look at families as a whole. My husband and I work as a team. You can have one person earning a huge amount but changes should be based on joint earnings," she said.

Nursery principal Liz Cook said many parents have been working longer hours and were finding new ways to cope since the recession.

"Over the last couple of years our overall numbers have been consistent. The number of different children attending has increased because parents are reducing days and using family for childcare instead," she said.