Childcare costs force one in four parents to quit work or education

One mother told ITV News she is thinking of moving her family to Germany so they can afford both work and childcare

The cost of childcare in the UK is forcing one in four parents to give up their job or drop out of education, according to a new study.

One London mum has described being left feeling “close to burnout” as she and her partner spend £975 a month on childcare for their 10-month-old daughter.

And some parents have described spending up to 70% of their income on nursery costs.The soaring cost of childcare has become a key policy issue as parents struggling to make ends meet describe dropping out of work as they can't afford to cover nursery fees.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled childcare reforms in response, extending the provision of 'free hours' to families of younger children.

However the industry has warned the government is not putting up enough money to cover nurseries' cost in providing funded places, and warn the increased demand could swamp childcare providers.

In the latest research on the issue, More than 7,000 parents and carers from the UK, Brazil, India, Netherlands, Nigeria, Turkey and the US with children under the age of seven were questioned for global children’s charity Theirworld.

The research found 23% of UK-based parents had either quit work or dropped out of their studies to avoid childcare costs, compared with 17% of their counterparts in Brazil, 16% in Turkey and 13% in Nigeria.

Some 74% of parents in the UK said they find it difficult to meet childcare costs, compared with 52% in India, 57% in the Netherlands, 59% in Nigeria, 68% in the US and Brazil, and 72% in Turkey.

Theirworld chairwoman Sarah Brown, who is married to former prime minister Gordon Brown, is calling on governments to urgently prioritise spending on the early years.

The survey has “laid bare the scale of the global early years crisis and its impact on children in rich and poor countries alike” and change is needed because “early years childcare is as essential to a country’s infrastructure as roads, hospitals and telecommunications”, Mrs Brown said.

Sixty-five percent of UK parents questioned said they have had to make major financial changes, including taking on more work and spending less on food, in order to afford childcare.

Some 22% said they spend between 30% and 70% of their income on childcare.

Theirworld said children from wealthier and educated backgrounds tend to begin primary school ready to learn, but there are nearly 250 million children in low- and middle-income countries who are at risk of not reaching their full development potential due to poverty, inadequate nutrition, exposure to stress, and a lack of early stimulation and learning.

The charity noted that Mr Hunt made childcare a central part of his Budget, providing an extra £4 billion over three years.

He also announced that in all eligible households in England every child under five will receive 30 hours a week of free childcare from the moment maternity leave ends.

However, critics have pointed out that this will not be in place until September 2025.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee last month, denied that the childcare system is in crisis.

He said: “I think that announcements in the Budget were warmly welcomed by the childcare sector for what they’re going to do, which is to increase the funding for childcare as it is now, but also expand the provision to cover some of the gaps in the existing system and move us into a internationally quite generous position relative to our peers on childcare.”

Elvira Grob and her partner spend £975 a month on childcare for their 10-month-old daughter Yoomi Credit: Michael Simpson/Theirworld/PA

'Close to burnout'

Elvira Grob, 41, who is a lecturer in design on a zero-hours contract, has described being left feeling “close to burnout” as she and her partner Michael spend £975 a month on childcare for their 10-month-old daughter, Yoomi.

The London-based couple do not want to give up their daughter’s place at nursery to save money because she “loves it there” and it is good for her development.

Ms Grob, who is also retraining and studying for a degree, returned to work two days a week when Yoomi was six months old.

She said: “I work in the evenings, I work when Yoomi sleeps, and I work at weekends.

“My income covers Yoomi’s childcare but I have rent to pay, and I also have to pay for my studies. It’s got to a point where I’m considering dropping my degree to help us pay our bills.”

Theirworld chairwoman Sarah Brown is calling on governments to urgently prioritise spending on early years childcare Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA

Mrs Brown added: “For a child, the first five to six years are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but this is being squandered on a global scale.

“Providing for children in their early years must be treated as a public good, not a private test of a family’s financial strength.

“Parents around the world should no longer be reduced to hoping for the best, crossing their fingers that the inadequate care they are often forced to use isn’t a risk to their child’s safety or their future prospects in life.

“We need to see a revolution for the early years that brings together governments, businesses, international agencies, parents, frontline workers, civil society, youth campaigners and grassroots groups to improve the lives of the world’s youngest children.”

A total of 7,226 parents or childcare professionals took part in the survey carried out for Theirworld by Hall & Partners.

Pregnant then Screwed founder Joeli Brearley. Credit: Pregnant then Screwed

'Parents are being let down'

Commenting on the latest research, campaign group Pregnant then Screwed's CEO and founder Joeli Brearley said: “The crippling cost of childcare is stripping parents of their career and pushing more and more families into poverty every week.

"This data is mortifying, we should be ashamed by how badly parents are being let down compared to less developed countries.

"For years, childcare and early years education has been underfunded by the government with devastating consequences for children and parents."

Pregnant then Screwed's recent research found that for three-quarters of mothers who use formal childcare, it doesn’t make financial sense for them to work, she added.

The cost of childcare was forcing parents out of their jobs and the burden to step into the gap was tending to fall onto the shoulders of mothers, who were missing out on income and career progression, Ms Brearley continued."This isn’t a ‘mummy issue’ this is an issue for the whole of society - it contributes to the skills gap, it inhibits economic growth, and it ensures only the very wealthy can access early years education for their children thereby entrenching inequality."Ms Brearley urged the government to meet the funding requirement cited by the early years sector of £9.4 billion to enable them to meet demand for affordable childcare. Pregnant then Screwed is also calling for changes to eligibility criteria for government-funded nursery hours to be extended to parents show are training or studying, saying women were being prevented from upskilling.

Demonstrators take part in the March of the Mummies national protest in central London. Credit: PA

Nurseries struggling to keep doors open

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said the latest research showing parents were having to quit their jobs due to soaring childcare costs was: "extremely concerning, but sadly it comes as no surprise." 

He claimed the sector had been severely underfunded, and left nurseries struggling to keep their doors open.

Mr Leitch warned the government's plan to eventually expand the 30-hours funded places to children from the age of nine-months, instead of three years, "will only serve to further cripple a sector already on its knees." 

He added: "It is absolutely vital, therefore, that, as government looks at how it will implement the proposals announced in last month’s Budget, it uses it as an opportunity to work with the sector to ensure it can survive the coming months and years." 

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