Childcare is something that’s always on the minds of parents and a topic readers frequently email in about. Finding the right balance between work and family life is something that’s more often than not, out of the hands of most families. With the change in government, we asked founder of Parental Choice Sarah-Jane Butler to report on the current situation and what the future might hold.
A step in the right direction for working parents…
Last Friday, the Conservative party swept into Government much to everyone’s surprise, including probably themselves. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has since stressed in his first cabinet meeting that the Conservatives will be the party for the working people of the UK. Working people includes working parents; working parents consequently means childcare. In recognition of that fact, the Conservative manifesto promised an increase in free childcare provision from 15 hours for all three to four year olds to 30 hours.
Despite the fact that this increase won’t take effect until 2017, this promised increase in childcare has proven very popular with working parents for two main reasons:
- Childcare in the UK is incredibly expensive, no matter what form it takes; and
- Without childcare, parents can’t work the way they want to, which has a consequential impact on their finances and career prospects.
A recent research report from the Family and Childcare Trust indicated that in many families, they are paying more on their childcare than they are on their mortgage. Childcare is also not, in the majority of cases, very flexible. Unless you can afford a nanny, and a flexible one at that, you are bound to the hours and timetables stipulated by your childcare provider. This, as many parents have found, is a cause of great stress as they try and balance the demands of their jobs with the restrictions and costs of their childcare. It is therefore no great shock that a large percentage of mothers, and it is unfortunately largely still mothers who take the brunt of the childcare responsibility, have done their maths, juggled their schedules and decided not to return to work until their children have started school or more often than not, at that stage having taken 5 years out of the workforce, not at all. A white paper published by the Chartered Management Institute in March 2013 on “Women in Leadership” stated that one in five female managers cite family commitments as a barrier to career progression with many women forced to turn to low paid, low skilled jobs to find the flexibility they require to make sure their family and work lives balance. These frankly don’t pay the bills and don’t inspire anyone to achieve. One of the Conservative party’s key mantras surely?
So how will the Government’s new proposed childcare provision help this dilemma? To start with, it enables parents to work at least three full days (9-5), providing childcare providers are set up accordingly, and to therefore increase their current earning potential. This could be a major financial advantage to most families and will allow women a greater choice when it comes to career progression that they had before (provided employers comply. Big if!)
It is worth bearing in mind however that the free childcare provision only kicks when your child is three years old so parents will still have to find childcare for their babies and toddlers unless they qualify for tax credits, in which case the free childcare provision would kick in at two years, but 30 hours at any age is a good start. Secondly, and this might be the greatest fly in the ointment, the free childcare provision isn’t exactly free. The Government provides a certain amount to each council who then funds each nursery according to the number of children within that facility that qualify. The amount that is given per hour is not enough to cover a nursery’s actual hourly running costs and therefore parents may still receive bills for “extras”. But a reduced bill is better than nothing, I guess.
So where does this leave the working parents the Conservatives are so eager to please? Well, if the Conservatives fulfil on their electoral promise, working parents of three to four year olds from 2017 will be better off as a result in a reduction in the cost of childcare and the ability to earn more from increased working hours, and they will have more options when it comes to building their careers. It’s not quite the longed for solution to all working parents (what about those who have children who aren’t three to four?) when it comes to juggling family / career commitments and stretched budgets but it is, in my opinion and clearly those of many working parents out there who voted last Thursday, a step in the right direction to supporting working parents. Let’s just hope that the Government follows through!
Author Sarah-Jane Butler is the founder of Parental Choice, a one stop advice and childcare search service for professionals looking for the right childcare to fit their careers.
 Family and Childcare Trust Annual Childcare Costs Survey 2015 by Jill Rutter