'A massive juggle': Summer break childcare gaps meet soaring cost of living

Childcare - school - summer holidays - nursery - stock photo

Credit: Pexels
Parents face summer term break childcare bills within weeks. Credit: Pexels

Parents struggling with the cost of living will soon face steep summer holidays childcare bills, on top of rising housing and food prices.

Family budgets straining under the weight of rent and mortgage hikes, on top of their bills will also be shouldering term-break childcare costs within weeks.

The average cost of a week’s worth of holiday club childcare across the UK is £148 - jumping by 5% since 2021 - according to the most recent available figures, from the Coram Holiday Childcare Survey 2022.

Summer holidays and half term holidays can span up to 15 weeks in a year, eclipsing the typical worker's annual leave entitlement - and leaving many families facing bills of thousands of pounds to put each child in care during term breaks.

Coram Family and Childcare's survey also found that parents struggle to access affordable term-break childcare, with only 27% of English local authorities offering enough holiday childcare for parents in their area who work full time in 2022, down 6% from the previous year. 

According to data from Coram and Statista, the cost of a month of fulltime holiday club childcare for two children can represent more than 58% of one parent’s average full-time take-home pay, according to virtual assistance agency SpareMyTime.The figures don't take into account the cost of after-school care throughout term time, for parents whose children's school can't offer access to wrap-around after school care.

By analysing the latest data from the Coram's survey, and comparing this to Statista’s regional salary data, SpareMyTime identified regional disparities in monthly childcare costs across the UK for the average family with two children.

The data uncovered which areas face the highest school holiday costs. 

The figures showed families in Yorkshire, East Midlands and Wales are experiencing the biggest disparity between their salary and rising childcare costs, with monthly childcare expenses costing more than 60% of one parent’s salary.

Parents in London on average typically earn significantly more than parents in all other regions.

But the figures show they are also paying the most on average for childcare per week (£158) - spending more than 50% of an average Londoner’s salary.

The government's childcare costs reforms for young children will expand 'free' nursery places to younger children in a phased rollout from September 2024.

While many nurseries offer childcare throughout the year, others are only open during school term-time.

A gap in care for school-age children can leave working parents in a challenging position, advocates say.

Bristol mum Nicola Barrett and her three daughters, aged 12, three and two. Credit: Nicola Barratt

Bristol mum-of-three Nicola Barrett told ITV News there were so few nursery places available in her area, one of her children was going to two separate nurseries to cover the family's care needs.

Ms Barrett has a 12-year-old at school, and two younger children - a three-year-old, and a two-year-old- both in part-time care, at nurseries that close over the term break.

She called her family's situation a "massive juggle," estimating the household is already spending around £550 a month on childcare: "It's like a mortgage, isn't it?"

Her three-year-old daughter qualifies for free nursery hours, the two-year-old's costs are paid for by the family. Under the government's upcoming childcare reforms, the free places will begin extending to younger children from late-2024.

However, councils around the UK on Wednesday warned they worry the rate of nursery closures in recent years could mean there won't enough available free places to accommodate the rise in demand.

Analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) suggests nearly nine in ten councils are concerned nursery closures this year will be significant and undermine sufficiency.

Figures released last week showed the number of childcare providers registered with Ofsted had decreased by 4,800 in the past year.

Ms Barrett works part-time for the Unison trade union as an administrator, and her partner is self-employed.

She said they felt "lucky" to have employment that ensured enough flexibility to navigate each day's string of school and nursery pick-up and drop-offs. But summer holidays brought a fresh challenge - "if he doesn't get to work he doesn't get paid."Like many parents, she is worried about whether the holiday childcare on offer will cover the full working day.

"For people who do a nine-to-five day, you're jugging for childcare at either end of the day."

SpareMyTime founder and mother-of-two Melissa Gauge. Credit: SpareMyTime

SpareMyTime founder Melissa Gauge told ITV News the cost and stress of arranging childcare was a key driver of her decision to quit her City job years ago.

Ms Gauge had been struggling to balance her busy job in London's financial district with childcare needs for her two children, then aged under two.Before she left her career in finance, she said she had been forking out around around £30,000 a year for childcare for her two children.

This eye-watering figure tracks with national statistics, which showed as of 2021, it cost a family nearly £14,000 a year on average to place one child aged under two in a nursery fulltime - a rise of nearly £3,000 since 2013.

Ms Gauge acknowledged many parents would struggle to stretch their salaries that far, and would instead be forced to cut back on work to care for their children.

While reform for childcare for younger children is on its way, she believes more attention needs to be given to the struggle to arrange childcare for school-age children outside of term time, and after school.

"And then what happens when your childcare suddenly fails... you rely on grandparents, but what they don't live nearby? And emergency childcare is so expensive."

She added: "The school day finishes at 3 o'clock- for many people that's when people are returning from lunch and settling into their afternoon tasks."

Melissa Gauge is concerned too many parents struggle with the costs of summer holiday childcare. Credit: SpareMyTime

Her children are now aged seven and nine, and like many parents, the business owner is trying to find wrap-around holiday childcare cover this summer while she works through much of the term-break.The cheapest she can find in her area of the capital is around £25 a day. She was finding most school holiday programmes in her area typically cost between £50-70 a day - "it's a lot of money, isn't it."

"For most parents, they're looking at six to eight weeks with their kids fulltime at home."

Ms Gauge questioned how parents struggling with the soaring cost of living will be able to afford this summer's school holiday childcare costs.

She believes many parents cut back on fulltime working hours to achieve the flexibility needed to handle childcare outside of term-time.

Ms Gauge said: "It's impossible not to feel squeezed over the holidays. Everyone is already feeling the effect of the cost of living crisis and now they have six to ten weeks of childcare to deal with."

The small business owner believes flexible working is vital to support mothers in the workplace. Credit: SpareMyTime

"Holiday camps cost circa £35-70 per day per child and often only run from 9-3. On top of this many parents then have to pay for additional wrap around care.

"I'm relying heavily on grandparents this holiday but not everyone has that support network available to them. It's incredibly isolating and stressful when you're trying to juggle it alone."

Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, said: “The summer holidays pose an impossible challenge for parents, many of whom are already struggling under the strain of a cost of living crisis and increasing costs for housing.

"Parents need to work to cover their bills, but due to a lack of availability and soaring costs, four in 10 parents will be forced to take unpaid leave to manage childcare over the summer. Meanwhile a third (32%) of parents say that childcare over the summer costs the same or more than what they earn.

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

"If we don’t want more children and their parents to fall into poverty, then we need government investment to create affordable, flexible and high quality childcare over the holidays.“

Responding to Wednesday's nursery data released by the LGA, the Department for Education spokesperson said its forthcoming investment in childcare in England was estimated to save working parent using 30 hours of childcare up to an average of £6,500 per year.

“To make sure there are enough places across the country we will be investing hundreds of millions of pounds each year to increase the amounts we pay providers to offer places and will be consulting on how we distribute funding to make sure it is fair across all areas of the country.

“We are also launching a new national recruitment campaign to support the recruitment and retention of talented staff and considering how best to introduce new accelerated apprenticeship routes so everyone from junior staff to senior leaders can easily move into a career in the sector.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...