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The unacceptable cost of childcare as a working parent in the UK

The cost of childcare is easily the most unexpected and debilitating aspect of parenting for many parents.

Everybody knows that having children is expensive – after all, they need food and clothes and a lot of plastic tut. But to be honest, childcare wasn’t on my list of expected expenses. At least not to the extent that it rules and drains my daily life.

Would that have changed my outlook on whether we were ready for having a child? Probably not. If it were, then only the elite would have children.

But that doesn’t mean that the cost of childcare passed onto working parents is right.

Is childcare a choice?

When considering childcare and going back to work, I didn’t have the choice of free childcare. Unless you have family that live close and are willing to help, there just isn’t a cheaper alternative to childcare.

I shouldn’t have to rely on friends or family. I should be able to access affordable childcare that allows me to work, contribute to our society and provide for my family.

My choice, was either paying the price of going back to work, or staying at home. We couldn’t afford for me to stay at home (and I need to work for sanity), so we paid the price.

The nursery we send my daughter to is a good one, but it’s by no means the most expensive around. In fact, at the time of enrolment it was one of the most affordable. It opens at 7.30 and closes at 6.30 giving us the flexibility of a working day. For us, it was the right choice of provider.

But as with every year, her fees are now increasing by about 5% to around £10k per year for four days a week. If she was in full time, 5 days a week? It’d be nearer to 12k per year (that’s with a discount too).

Sorry if you’ve just spat your tea out. I’ll let that figure sink in….

But before we start pointing the finger at expensive childcare being the issue, bear in mind that my nursery made a grand total of 0.003% profit last year. The problem isn’t greed of childcare providers.

In Ready Steady Cook style, nurseries are given a wobbly bicycle wheel and a carrot stick in the form of Government funding and asked to make nutritious meals, nurture minds and do crafty activities that parents daren’t attempt at home. To top it all off, the same Government then inspect to check that they’re doing a good job.

It’s hardly a fair system.

The problem is clearly Government support. Not just helping parents get back to work despite childcare costs. Or accepting that you can only go back to work without crippling costs when all of your children are over 3 (as long as your job is flexible of course which is another issue…).

Government help

Childcare vouchers mean that we, like many other families save a little on the bill of nursery fees, but to be honest, it makes a very small dent in a very large bill.

£243 each as a tax free payment direct from our salaries. I’d hardly call that a voucher as it’s still all my own hard-earned money. We then top it up with more of our hard-earned cash.

Some people are even having to cut back on working due to the rising costs of childcare.

Does that sound like a system that’s helping parents to get back into work? No.

For most people like me, childcare isn’t a choice, but a cruel necessity.

Having a child and wanting to work shouldn’t be met with “well, you should have thought about the cost before having children” response. Trust me, I’ve had somebody tell me that before.

The cost of childcare and my salary shouldn’t have to come into the equation of whether or not we have children. Neither should I have to rely on my other half to earn enough to support our entire family.

We live in 2018, not 1918.

It shouldn’t be this hard for parents and something has to give.

Forced into a corner with the rising cost of childcare

Parents are being forced into a corner with the rising cost of childcare meaning that they can’t afford to work.

Surely that should be an oxymoron and an impossibility, so I’ll say it again…

Not being able to afford to work.

To top it off, with the lack of a national acceptance to a flexible approach to working (I’m talking Flex appeal, not “I’m going to start work 15 mins early, so I can finish 15 mins early, but actually work double because I feel guilty about it”). Parents are having to tackle too many hurdles to simply earn money for their family.

It’s no wonder that childcare costs is cited as THE biggest risk factor for families who are on the edge of living in poverty (source: 2015 statistics from Gingerbread). More fancy sources of ‘believe it or not’ stats here in my Working Mums Infographic post).

We shouldn’t simply accept that it’s just the way it is. Other countries have proven that.

Norway, as an example have a cap on childcare costs being capped at £250 a month, with the rest being covered by their Government. In comparison, that’s a quarter of what we currently would pay for full time nursery fees.

We have a long way to go, but the first step is accepting that our system doesn’t work. Or, I suppose not accepting it. It’s choking parents and it has to stop before it’s too late.

Nursery fees are more expensive than…

To lighten the mood, I’ve also done the math (oh you knew it was coming)…

Nursery is more expensive than private school.

Our nearest private school fees (let’s take lower prep school as an example) per year are £9,855, including lunches.

Of course, that doesn’t include the wrap around care, but still…

Do you know what else is cheaper than nursery fees for a year?

  • A mortgage for a 3 bed detached house in Northamptonshire
  • Buying a second hand car outright (or a small new one)
  • 2 weeks holiday in Disney’s Animal Kingdom resort during summer holidays for 2 adults and 1 child, including flights, car hire and Disney tickets (£6.3k)… or a luxury holiday to the Maldives is about the same price which would still mean you could go on 2 luxury holidays a year.

How has the cost of childcare affected your family? Did it affect your decision about going back to work? Would a more flexible approach to work, or lower costs affect whether you’d work (either now or going back to work in the future)? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

Also, if you feel strongly about the cost of childcare, then I’d urge you to sign Save the Children’s petition on childcare costs, urging the Government to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. So… what are you waiting for? Click this link to sign the Save the Children Petition on Childcare costs, pop your name down and make your voice heard.

How Childcare Costs Are Choking UK Parents.

Comments 20

  1. Childcare definitely effected when I had my second child. I had to wait until my first turned 3 for the free hours but I will still have to pay the wrap around fee because it’s a private nursery. Something needs doing to help Nursery owners and parents to make it more profitable/affordable.
    What makes my blood boil is people saying “why have kids to put them in Nursery and have other people looking after them” if I didn’t work I couldn’t afford to live and give my children certain things, plus my daughter actually enjoys going now and playing with her friends, and she has come on leaps and bounds. I could really go on and on about this subject

  2. I didn’t work until my kids were older but I chose to put them into childcare twice a week to prepare them for school and to learn to stand on their own two feet. It was terribly expensive back then. I don’t know what the answer is here – it’s an area I’m concerned about when ‘cutting costs’ gets mentioned. I need to understand why it’s so expensive first. x

  3. I cannot believe the cost of childcare nowadays! Ive been lucky enough to only have to work part time and also have family that live close by to help me out with childcare. I have wished for my children to attend nursery to encourage social skills etc and not have to rely fully on family but even 1.5 days per week still mounts up and i am questioning as to whether i want to take this route with my third when he is a few months older and i return to work…I’m thinking id much want a 2 week holiday in Disney!

  4. I could have written this post myself. It’s ridiculous how expensive it is in relative terms. Our childcare costs are 30% more than our mortgage and that’s only three days a week. 15 hours free at a state nursery when they are 3 (in Wales) means nothing if you’re working as what employer is going to allow you to work 2 hours a day to do drop off and pick up? You still have to pay for private nursery for the rest of the day so you may as well keep paying. We are likely to only ever have one child, but I think if we were it would be pointless even going to work while they were both in nursery. Many people I know are reliant on family and parents for some of their childcare, but with an aging population and people having kids later in life, how long that can practically go on for? #forTheLoveofBlog

  5. Childcare and putting your child through a quality school is expensive here in South Africa. We were lucky that my mother-in-law opted to look after our girls up until the age of 3 and then we put them in playschool. But the cost of playschool is just as expensive. In our household we need to work to pay the bills and therefore had no choice to pay for playschool. It is just as expensive in Australia and my brother-in-law is paying through his neck for childcare there.#fortheloveofBLOG

  6. We only use a nursery 2 days a week and luckily had funded from 2 so it hasn’t been as expensive as others. However, as soon as you have more children it just starts to spiral. I naively didn’t consider childcare costs and just assumed we would muddle through! Very interesting post, thanks! #fortheloveofBLOG

  7. We didn’t have family close by but were lucky enough to be able to afford for Rev T to be a stay at home dad. But not everyone is in a position to do this and we were always broke! The whole thing is madness. If they want people to go back to work, then childcare needs to be seen as a necessity and priced as such. As it is, it’s a luxury.

  8. Your point got me wondering about the economics of running a nursery and with some cusory research I discovered the British average cost of nursery for a child under 2 for 25 hour per week is £116.25 – £4.65 per hour. That can’t be true – surly? The minimum wage for an 18-20 year old is £5.60 per hour thus a nursery wouldn’t survive! Our choice has been that my wife stayed at home so never used a nursey so no idea in reality what it costs.

  9. Childcare costs are heartbreaking. I did gobs of research before my little one was born because if I am going to pay an arm and a leg for care, it had better be the best care possible. One day in the distant future, I hope parents’ places of business will treat them as humans and let them adjust schedules to fit child care needs, I hope the governments realize that there are always children that need to be looked after and they deserve a wonderful place to be in while mum and dad are out at work. #ForTheLoveOfBlog

  10. I am glad you mentioned the pay childcare workers receive. Considering they mind our mist precious things in life, they are poorly paid, in Ireland anyway. It is crazy how much of our wage has to go on childcare though.

  11. One year, I had both kids in fulltime daycare – I needed to clear (after tax) $60000 (in OZ) which meant I had to earn $110000 just to PAY for daycare. So whatever over that was income. It was ridiculous. It did make up part of my decision to stop work for a bit. There was just no point. Unfortunately it was 2 years after that. Should have been that year!#FortheloveofBLOG

  12. The cost of childcare is just ridiculous!! We couldnt afford it with Ben let alone with the twins pending arrival! I’d be working pretty much just to pay a childcare service! Thankfully my MIL is happy to look after Ben and now i’m going to blog fulltime it’s a bit easier on that front. It needs to change though!! #fortheloveofBLOG

  13. Not being able to “afford to work” is such a huge issue for our society at the moment. It sounds crazy but it is a reality. In my experience, you can juggle it all if you extra help (from family) or if you only have the one child but heaven forbid you want more or you don’t have support you are screwed! Great post I can feel your rage and you are sooo right #365

  14. Coming from a single-income family, sending kids to daycare is really hard. We are in the US and daycare is expensive. Our son goes to daycare Monday to Friday full time, and that’s $239 per week. We tried choosing the cheap ones, and it just didn’t appeal to us. So. I understand how you feel. #fortheloveofBLOG

  15. Wow. If you put it in those terms childcare costs are truly insane aren’t they?!? I must admit, cost of childcare was a prohibitive factor in my return to work and I’ve since gone freelance as a result. A really insightful post #fortheloveofblog

  16. I see this every day in the United States as well. People have to choose between going back to work or working basically just to afford childcare. Very few places offer any childcare subsidies or savings programs. To find quality childcare here, you have to pay through the nose. It’s a shame this has not changed more. #fortheloveofblog

  17. As a child I had a free nursery allowing my mum to have a break and a life. It is sickening that is no longer the case and that mums are not supported to mix parenting with work and a life. We are putting so much pressure on mums in the UK which just results in mental health issues and family breakdown as something has to give and that should actually be the Government having fairer policies and communities working better too. #fortheloveofBlog

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