The Choice Myth: Why Childcare Costs are Keeping Mums in the Home

By Becky Howard, journalist and co-director of Nine Media Training & Consultancy

WorkingMum and childI’m a working mum. I’ve got two kids, one at school and one in nursery, and while they’re there, I can devote my time to running my business (www.ninemediatraining.com) and my freelance journalism. I work between 3-4 days a week, which for me is about right just now.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Because the actual reason I can do this – balance work and family commitments in a way that is right for me – is because my husband’s salary can help with childcare costs.

The truth of the matter – and something which I hate to admit, even to myself – is that if I was a single mother, or had a partner on a lower salary, I wouldn’t be able to afford to do this. I would probably have to stay at home full-time, whether I wanted to go to work or not. Because the cost of childcare is so prohibitive, there would simply be no choice.

Recent stats out this week show that many parents in the UK are paying more for their childcare annually than they do for their mortgage. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26373725) The Family and Childcare Trust’s annual report have calculate average fees to be around £11,700 a year. At my local nursery in North London, the daily fees for a child under-two are £73. That’s per day.

Until there is wholesale reorganization of how childcare is run and funded in this country, more and more women will be prevented from choosing to return to work.

You don’t have to be an economics whizz that to calculate that even on an average UK salary of £26,500, adding onto this mortgage, council tax, fuel and energy bills, plus food shopping, the sums simply don’t add up. And it’s not the nurseries that are to blame – they have huge costs to bear such as staffing levels, insurance, overheads and training. What’s missing is government help.

The real tragedy is that the problem of ‘pipeline leakage’ in the workplace – where women drop out of the workforce after having kids – is often forced upon women rather than taken as a constructive lifestyle choice. The country is littered with educated, smart women who have been forced to leave employment, and when they are able to return once their kids are at school, are lacking in confidence and skills after their years away.

What we need, I believe, is more government assistance for all working mums. Daycare is expensive to run, so we need more help. In Denmark, parents contribute up to 25% of the cost of childcare (depending on income) and the government makes up the difference http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/feb/18/britain-learn-denmark-childcare-model. This means that most women go back to work after having children in Denmark and that the country is now ranked fifth for female employent in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Currently, the UK is 15th.

Until there is wholesale reorganization of how childcare is run and funded in this country, more and more women will be prevented from choosing to return to work. This myth of ‘having it all’ – the fact that for thousands of mums, they have no choice whatsoever.

BeckyHowardAuthor Bio:

Journalist and author Becky has written for Good Housekeeping, Grazia, Sunday Times & Stylist amongst many others. She runs Nine Media Training & Consultancy helping clients achieve media success.

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