Ask any parent in the UK about their childcare, and they will tell you the system is expensive and a nightmare to navigate. It’s complicated: there are currently seven types of childcare support for parents, depending on your income and your children’s ages. And it’s expensive: the cost of childcare is at a record high, and parents across the country are struggling to manage working alongside childcare costs.
The reality is that most parents (75% of mothers and 93% of fathers) are working. And for most parents with young children, childcare is a lifeline that they rely on.
Being able to access childcare that is affordable and high quality is therefore essential for parents with young children in the UK. It supports parents to be able to increase their family income through employment, and high-quality childcare is proven to have a significant impact on children’s early outcomes.
Given that childcare is a major issue for most parents with young children, it’s no wonder that in these early days of this General Election campaign, we are already hearing the main political parties’ pitches to parents on the issue.
Whilst it’s great that we’re starting to see the main political parties (Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats) speaking out about the need to improve the childcare offer for parents, we need to make sure support is truly helping the most disadvantaged.
So, what should the political parties be focusing on?
Although it’s just one piece of the puzzle, high-quality childcare plays a crucial role in supporting parents from low income families to work to boost their income and loosen the grip of poverty. Poverty has many causes, but the higher rates among families with young children are partly due to employment opportunities for parents, particularly mothers and single parents.
Childcare is a lifeline for most parents. When parents move into or return to work, or start using childcare for the first time, they can be faced with high costs (of up to £1,000 for a full-time place) to pay. Most nurseries and childcare providers require this to be paid a month in advance. For all parents, this level of cost upfront is likely to be a struggle.
For working parents on low incomes, who are less likely to have savings to draw on, upfront childcare costs can mean parents going into debt to cover the bills, going without essentials or not being able to take up employment altogether. Simply providing parents with the support they are entitled to before they have to pay these fees could stop this – and would not require additional funding.
Whilst many of the parties are proposing additional free childcare hours, which would be welcome news for eligible parents, gaps in affordability remain for parents that need to cover the school holidays when free hours don’t apply. Parents on low incomes will continue to struggle to top up childcare hours, so to make sure all parents benefit, the next government must ensure struggling families get the support they need to cover them.
Reforming the system could have a transformative impact on families’ and children’s lives.
If the political parties are serious about giving all children the best start in life and supporting struggling families, all must prioritise making childcare work for the most disadvantaged.
What can you do now?