Why formal childcare is out of reach for young mums

Monday 27 March 2017

Why formal childcare is out of reach when you’re a young mum

Emma MChildcare Choices is the new website from government to help parents figure out what help they can get with their childcare costs. It is colourful and sets out government’s childcare policies in an easy-to-read format, with the option to calculate the help you are entitled to on a ‘childcare calculator’. The site is much more readable than the complicated and policy-focused pages on the main gov.uk site.

With the introduction of 15 free hours and the forthcoming 30 free hours policy, this government has been more radical in its childcare policy than any other in the UK’s history. The problem is that this is still not enough for a lot of parents. It is almost certain that every parent will tell you that childcare is wildly expensive, but Young Women’s Trust research has reminded us that for young mothers it is unaffordable.

For our report What matters to young mums? Young Women’s Trust spoke to mothers aged under 25 across the country about a variety of topics, including childcare and work. Women told us that for the most part they left their children with relatives when they needed to, and that the cost and inflexibility of formal childcare put them off working. 26% of young mothers told us that they had left a job because they could not afford childcare.

Emma MYoung mums are usually just starting out in the world of work, and by default they tend to receive much lower pay than older mothers. For example, a young woman aged 21-24 working for 16 hours a week on the minimum wage (of £7.05 in April 2017) will earn £112.80 a week. In comparison, according to the Family and Childcare Trust, parents working part-time and requiring 25 hours care a week will pay around £116 per week for a child under two in nursery, and £110 for a childminder. It is understandable then, that mothers felt reluctant to spend time working when they would only just break even on earnings. In one mum’s words:

“When you look into it you think I’m working to pay for my child’s      childcare so why would I miss out on their life and development?”

There are two factors at play here and the first is low pay. Young Women’s Trust believe that since women under 25 bear all the same costs as those over 25, they should be entitled to the National Living Wage. In April 2017 this will be increased to £7.50 per hour. This does not represent a full solution though: the Living Wage as set by the Living Wage Foundation as sufficient to live on is £9.75 an hour in London, and £8.45 in the remainder of the UK.

The second is about government’s role in supporting mothers and families with their childcare needs. There are multiple ways that government could step in to help young women work and reap the rewards in terms of income tax and less reliance on benefits.

Free childcare support for the lowest earners - is vital. At present the 15 hours free childcare is only available for 38 weeks in a year, but we know that young women are unable to shoulder payments during holiday periods. If the 15 hours were available year-round then more young mothers would be able to take up work.

Likewise, we are yet to see how the 30 hour policy plays out, but Young Women’s Trust are concerned that its focus on ‘working families’ earning at least £120 a week leaves those struggling most – such as those under 25, those on zero hours contracts, apprentices and students – without much-needed support.

Young Women also complained about the difficulty of having to book and pay for childcare in advance when they worked varied shifts outside of the 9-5 5 day week model. It is clear that childcare providers need support to bring in more flexible systems.

Many of the young women we spoke to during the research were considering retraining or starting out in a new field when they went back to work. Funding for childcare while they studied part-time would have been welcomed. Yet Care to Learn funding is only available for those aged 20 or under starting a course at a publicly-funded school or sixth form college. Discretionary Learner Support for those over 20 does not provide the same support, and YWT would like to see Care to Learn eligibility extended to 25 year olds so that young women can prepare for work gradually.

Emma MFinally, mothers of young children are now more likely to be older than 35 than they are to be aged under 25. Childcare policy is geared to favour these older mothers who are more likely to be established at work and earning better salaries. Yet, without belittling the challenges faced by older mothers, we know that young women face their own distinct set of problems with mothering. These include isolation from their peer group and bearing the brunt of stereotypes and stigma about young mothers, as well as being more likely than their older counterparts to be on low pay. When the government next revisits childcare and is in a position to build on its policies we suggest it takes this difference into account.