Sophie had her dream job as an editor at a publishing house, but after having her first baby she simply couldn’t make it work. “Childcare was nullifying my income, so I left the role that I had worked my backside off for 10 years to attain,” she says.
This story is painfully familiar. Every woman over 30 knows the war stories of trying to juggle work and kids, and we all have friends whose careers lie in tatters thanks to a rigid and expensive childcare system. New research carried out by Bubble, the childcare app which supports tens of thousands of working parents, shows that 67 per cent of working parents have considered leaving their jobs as they buckle under the pressure of juggling childcare with work.
Sophie eventually decided to go freelance, which gave her more flexibility but it hasn’t been easy to find flexible childcare to match. “I have only managed to sustain this new direction by using ad hoc childcare services and occasionally I resort to screentime”. Sophie identifies with the two-thirds of parents who have turned down work due to lack of childcare. The research of over 1,000 parents of under 5s showed that working parents are missing out on an average of £15,000 of annual income because they are turning down work or promotions.
Sophie explains: “We have managed, but finding and affording childcare has been a constant struggle and I cannot understand why this is an experience that is so common to so many women, women who work hard to have jobs which contribute to our society and then have kids and find themselves utterly stuck.”
Not only does the UK have amongst the most expensive childcare in the world but the support provided by the government is inadequate. Well-intentioned but overly-complicated schemes like ‘tax free childcare’ are not accessible to freelancers like Sophie.
This all means that parents around the country are creating a patchwork of childcare in order to make it work - a combination of friends and family as babysitters (47 per cent), using tablets to keep kids distracted (17 per cenr) or paying for additional support such as a babysitter (13 per cent) to try and keep on top of the work that falls outside of traditional childcare hours. It’s not surprising that one third of parents say this is taking a toll on their mental health.
The frustration felt by so many women like Sophie and myself, is that it all makes no fiscal sense. Our economy would be £8bn better off annually if we had childcare infrastructure that was fit for purpose. In December Save The Children and the Institute for Public Policy published a plan which showed how more investment in UK childcare infrastructure is easily paid for by the boost our economy would receive from more parents being able to work more.
The Government Education Commision has recently launched an enquiry to examine why childcare has become so unaffordable. The review states how vital it is that parents are able to continue their careers. But the time for platitudes is over - working parents need childcare policy reform and proper investment in the sector.