Working mothers caught in cash trap

One in seven women with children and jobs spend half their wages on childcare, reports Glenda Cooper, Social Affairs Correspondent
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THE SURVEY

MORE than half of Britain's working mothers spend more than pounds 50 a week on childcare and 14 per cent spend more than half their earnings, according to a new survey.

While more and more women with children under five are going out to work, they do not believe that they are getting the childcare support they need, the magazine Right Start has found.

Following the tragic case of Matthew Eappen, the eight-month-old who died in Massachusetts while being cared for by Louise Woodward, the 19- year-old English au pair, public attention has once again focused on the need to develop high quality affordable childcare.

The magazine found in a survey of more than 500 parents that nearly half rely on unregulated care such as friends or family, with only 2 per cent having a workplace nursery and nearly one-third forced to use more than one sort of childcare.

One mother said: "Society still treats working mums as a nasty disease. I had great difficulty finding a childminder - no help from social services and nobody willing to fit in with my shift work as a nurse."

"Women are a valuable part of the workforce," another added. "But we are expected to find a job to fit around childcare and we are made to feel bad if our children are sick and we need to have time off. When we do work we are seen as unfit mothers."

Mothers said that they wanted the state to help with their childcare. "I do feel that this extremely large expense should be subject to tax relief," said one mother. "The Government is trying to encourage single mums to return to work but how about us married mums?"

"Employers could do more for working parents but they are only interested in cutting staff, doubling workloads and trimming benefits," another said. "Most employers don't offer childcare provision although working parents make up a large proportion of their staff."

Many of those questioned expressed fears over the quality of childcare on offer to them, with more than six out of 10 wanting to see firmer childcare regulations introduced. Nearly one in three said that they worried about their child's safety and 67 per cent believed discipline was too lax.

"Our survey shows that most parents do not get the affordable high-quality childcare they need to feel confident when they leave their child to go to work," said Lynette Lowthian, the editor of Right Start. "We desperately need firmer regulations on childcare, tax concessions and more support from employers."

Colette Kelleher, director of the Daycare Trust, added her support. "The survey highlights the difficulties many parents, particularly working parents, face getting childcare that meets their needs and which they can afford," she said. "British parents pay the highest childcare bills in Europe. Much more could be done by the Government and employers to help parents meet the costs of childcare."

'Men must do part of work'

READERS' VIEW

Responses to our campaign to improve childcare continue to pour in, with readers urging the Government to act soon to help working mothers.

Alison Walters says: "I believe that, in line with European objectives, and the Labour Government's objective of Welfare to Work, it is necessary for help to be given to those most in need, working mothers.

"Given that women earn less than men in many jobs, it seems most inequitable that the workforce should lose out on the unique talents of many women who cannot afford the poverty trap of low wages and high childcare costs."

Says Nikki Chapple, a manager: "I really enjoy working and being a parent and feel a woman should be able to have the choice of working or staying at home if being financially supported. I would rather work and be poor than be on the dole and vegetate."

Jayne Wright says: "I am a police officer with 14 years' service and have a two-year-old son. I have continued to work full time since the birth of my son. I am now expecting our second child.

"This now faces me with a dilemma; if I continue working I will lose two-thirds of my income in childcare. The alternative is for me to stay at home and leave a career which I enjoy greatly and have considerable experience in."

"It has always seemed ridiculous that I can claim a tax allowance for clothing expenses but something so vital as appropriate childcare does not warrant an allowance.

Liz Saward says: "Working women are never going to have the luxury of a wife at home. But it's about time that the government recognised the enormous burden, both financial and emotional, that women who work have to carry."

Clare McGlynn, from Newcastle Law School, gives her support but adds: "It should be a campaign for better childcare for parents and for tax breaks for parents.

"One of the problems with a lack of childcare, and the fact that women have difficulties combining work and family, is that childcare is seen as the woman's responsibility. Until men take their share of the burden ... women will continue to have difficulties."

Gillian Ward, a personnel manager from Surrey, adds: "The March 1998 budget would be a good opportunity for the Government to at least recognise the financial issues [of childcare].

"My employer has made the effort to accommodate my specific needs as a working mother ... I make the effort to work, be independent and be a role model to my daughter but in no way does the Government recognise this effort. Two factors would help this; tax concessions and more accessible childcare."

n Add your support to our campaign. Write to Glenda Cooper, The Independent, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 1DL or fax us on 0171 293 2143 or e-mail gcooper@independent.co.uk.

We have

to forget holidays and presents

CASE STUDY

JANET Peynardo is a single parent who has gone back to work, part-time, 20 hours a week, writes Glenda Cooper. Two hours a day travelling time to and from work pushes her childcare bill up to pounds 260 a month.

"I live in north London but I work in Knightsbridge and so I have to allow an hour both ways," she says. "I'm looking at paying pounds 60 a week, which is a lot of money when you're only working part-time."

Janet's take-home pay is pounds 800, which she says is "very reasonable", and she gets pounds 155 in Family Credit. On top of childcare each month she has to pay pounds 70 for travel plus rent of nearly pounds 200. It doesn't leave much for her and her daughter Kyra.

"To be honest I don't resent paying for childcare ... but the problem is that I can't take on any more work because it just wouldn't be worthwhile. If I took on any more hours I wouldn't get any help and I couldn't afford the childcare. I'm struggling as it is and we're just about managing but it means that we have to forget about things like Christmas or holidays. Kyra is just over a year old now. It was a very hard decision to go back to work but when you're on your own you have to. Otherwise where's the money going to come from? At least this way I do get to spend some time with her. I can get her up and give her her breakfast so I know whatever happens she won't starve, she'll have a good meal inside her and then when I get home there's a bit of time before bed.

"I'd like to see more help increasing the threshhold for childcare. And it's just so complicated. You just don't get the benefit. I think there must be a lot of people in my position who would like to go back to work but when they look at the costs of childcare, of travel, they just think that it will be too expensive.

"I am 34 now. I worked for 17 years putting money into the system and I don't think I'm getting anything out of it."

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