What’s the real cost of childcare to young mums?

By Mark Gale, Policy and Campaigns Manager, Young Women's Trust • 20 February 2023

Cost of childcare is a barrier to work

The UK has the third-highest childcare costs in the developed world. Only Switzerland and Slovakia have higher childcare costs than the UK according to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data. Net childcare costs are calculated for couples and single parents with 2 children aged 2 and 3.

The current system of childcare is not working for anyone. Young mothers and other parents are unable to access the childcare they need at a price they can afford. High childcare costs keep them out of the workplace or in low-paid jobs that fail to make use of their skills and potential. Staff, many of whom are themselves young women – are poorly paid, overstretched and burnt out; and yet providers are struggling to stay in business because, amidst rising costs, the funding shortfall is too great. Children, too, lose out when their nursery is forced to close, staff are overworked, and high costs push their parents to a financial cliff-edge.

Childcare is vital infrastructure

Years of neglect have left us with current childcare that is underfunded and unable to meet the demands of modern working life. Childcare is not an optional extra but a vital part of our infrastructure. It has the potential to unleash the contributions of young women to our society and economy. A childcare system that works for young women is one that serves the country as a whole.

Reimagining childcare

Let’s be clear there is need for immediate action to help the many parents struggling with the cost of living crisis. The government should provide more financial support to both parents and providers to help them meet the true costs of childcare and more should be done to make young women aware of the support which is already available.

However, this short-term support will not be enough on its own. We need to reimagine the way childcare is funded and delivered to make sure supply meets demand and that it is fit for purpose: affordable to parents, sustainable for providers and flexible enough to enable young women to access work and training opportunities.

Investment is needed

Young Women’s Trust is calling the on Government to guarantee truly affordable childcare that enables young women to work the hours they need to. This guarantee must be backed by a recognition of childcare as the critical infrastructure it is with funding and investment in line with the vital function childcare plays in supporting the economy.

A modern and effective system of childcare would be free for young mums from the end of maternity leave. The support available would be simple and easy to understand and It would be responsive to the needs of working parents, especially those young women who don’t work a standard 9-5.

This is achievable, given the political will, but we must first acknowledge how important childcare is, not just to individual parents but to the entire economy. As the country begins to look ahead to a general election it will be important to make sure every party is committed to delivering the childcare that young women are calling for. Young Women’s Trust will be working over the next year to make sure those calls are heard.

If you’re unsure what childcare you’re entitled to, you can explore your options through organisations that offer advice and support at Additional Support.

Visit The Education Committee which oversees the work of the Department for Education, covering children’s social care, schools, colleges, the early years and higher education.

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