New report shows childcare investment key to equal pay

On Equal Pay Day, Young Women’s Trust calls on political parties to put major childcare investment at the heart of their manifestos as new research shows young mothers not only locked out of work and equal pay – but going hungry to afford scant and expensive support.

The charity said the UK could only significantly tackle the pay gap by investing in free year-round childcare from the end of parental leave, by offering 12 weeks of equal and paid for paternity leave on a “use it or lose it basis”, and by providing flexible schemes for those who work irregular hours.

“The very idea of equal pay is a distant dream for young women whose first concern is how to balance the most basic needs”, said Young Women’s Trust CEO Sophie Walker.

Walker added:

“Today is the day we all talk about closing the pay gap. But our report reveals half of all working mums aged 18 to 30 skip meals at least once a week because they struggle to balance just getting to work against the cost, inflexibility and inaccessibility of childcare. We’re a long way off dealing with the basic problem of access to paid work, which is the foundation of access to equal pay.”

The Childcare: What Young Women Want report draws on findings from focus groups held across the country and a Survation survey for Young Women’s Trust of UK mums aged 18 to 30.  It found:

  • More than 3 in 4 of young mums (78%) said a lack of flexible and affordable childcare was a barrier to finding employment
  • 57% were unable to take up employment because of a lack of suitable childcare options
  • 1 in 3 young mums was forced to leave a job because she could not afford childcare and more than half of those polled said they would work more hours if they could find flexible childcare at an affordable price
  • Two thirds of employed young mums are struggling or just about managing financially, rising to 82% of those who are not working because they cannot afford childcare
  • 1 in 4 working mums skip meals every day to make ends meet. Half of working mums are skipping meals at least once a week to provide for their children – rising to 64% among those on Universal Credit

Said Walker: 

“If we are serious about ending poverty, driving economic growth and achieving sex and pay equality, then childcare must be treated as a fundamental part of the country’s infrastructure. Yet as our report shows, successive governments have failed young mums, especially those struggling to live on low or no pay.  It is scandalous that young women are having to skip meals to meet childcare costs and make ends meet. But it is also not surprising given that Britons pay for the most expensive childcare in Europe – an average of £127 per week or over £6,600 per year. Clearly, childcare has not been treated as a national priority.

“Society will value care when men do it as well as women – right now statistics show women lose three percent of pay for every child they have while fathers get a 21% pay bonus – and when everyone has a stake in it. Extended paid-for paternity leave on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis is key, as is state-funded free childcare so it’s no longer assumed to be women’s work.

“Any political party serious about winning women’s votes need to listen to them and invest in a childcare and parental leave system that is affordable, flexible and easy to use.”

The research also found that discrimination and inflexibility by employers are making the situation worse, with 1 in 4 mothers polled saying they had been discriminated against after disclosing they were pregnant, and 40% saying they had been asked how being a mum affects their ability to work. 1 in 3 said requests to work flexible hours were turned down by their boss.

Young Women’s Trust is calling on the next government to put childcare reform and supporting parents at the heart of their legislative programme, including by:

  • Extending free childcare to start at the end of paid parental leave at nine months and increasing the entitlement for free childcare so that it is available year round
  • Changing the rules under Universal Credit so parents can choose to have childcare costs paid directly to the provider – so no parent has to pay upfront costs they can’t afford
  • Allowing parents with irregular working hours to access a new out of hours childcare voucher scheme so they can take advantage of free childcare
  • Extending eligibility for 30 hours free childcare to those in education and training, and consulting on the feasibility of extending eligibility to jobseekers to provide continuity and stability for children and parents
  • Investing in publicising existing support including free childcare and tax-free childcare
  • Changing legislation to give all workers and employees the right to request flexible working from day one in a new job whilst requiring employers to advertise jobs as flexible or justify why they are not able to do so
  • Extending parental leave, including by increasing the current paternity leave allowance to 12 weeks at 90 percent pay on a “use it or lose it basis.”

Note to editors   

  • On behalf of Young Women’s Trust, Survation carried out a poll of 520 mothers aged 18 to 30 between 13 and 20 March 2019.
  • 5 focus groups were also held in Newcastle, Hull, Leicester and London.