We spend a lot of time looking after children when they grow up, and often for good reason. Educating them through their early years can help them develop strong social and emotional skills, emotional well-being, higher levels of self-esteem and independence and helps them get on with their peers later in life.
Parents’ paid hours can be skimmed because childcare is on the rise and daycare is expensive.
On top of this, families with young children face the struggle of trying to work through busy hours when looking after their children. When working parents can’t provide enough childcare to give a good quality start for children, they get caught in the system of having to take on part-time or full-time employment.
Having paid hours limited by the hours available in childcare is a permanent barrier to parents going back to work. The knock-on effects of this are that they don’t fit in childcare – there’s little that can be done outside of work to change the situation – and so the parents struggle to fit childcare in at all.
Life’s a struggle
No mother wants to work long hours, but childcare doesn’t offer any viable solutions that put parents back in control.
This situation is the starting point for Elizabeth, a high-flying working mum. She finds it difficult to fit in child care at home while still trying to support her family and fit in a job.
“Childcare comes down to the balance of pay and hours available. If you work full-time and get about 50 hours a week in childcare, your hours of pay drop from 40 to 10 – which is about 30 per cent less than the lowest point in pre-school in the UK.
So, on top of your work rate, you’re deprived of the full pay.
And then you also have to buy daycare. In my case, daycare is already quite expensive so my mother and sister provide nursery for me and my daughter.
If I had access to a good childcare system, they would provide everything. At first, it just looks like a one-bedroom flat, full of curtains and toys – but it’s six hours a day, with six staff who are all friendly and welcoming.”
Elizabeth says this was the only way her family could afford it.
“I just think in this day and age we should be looking at this issue more in our society and think ‘what can we do’ to make childcare more accessible and affordable.”
Popular national scheme fails
And there are other problems contributing to this problem. Early years childcare is crucial for children to succeed at school, and studies show that a quality early years education can give children the skills they need for a great start in life.
Yet for all of these advantages, staff shortages are making this an increasingly difficult path for parents to follow. Most national childcare and nurseries tend to employ nurses and teachers, but there are thousands of nursery and nursery-style teachers in the country and many don’t currently have the qualifications or experience needed to be qualified to run early education.
Last month, Michael Gove (now the education secretary) told the House of Commons that councils cannot keep a register of all high-quality family and parenting support providers, for example, because the volunteers are too overworked. This indicates that the quality of the family and early childhood centres is starting to falter, and parents may no longer be able to turn to them.
Hoping for changes
So what can we do? Some parents I spoke to support some form of means testing. Others think childcare should be more flexible and convenient for parents so there’s more time for them to give their children a good start.
Helen, a mother of two who works full-time is disappointed with the policies so far and hopes the government can provide a more sustainable childcare system.
“Our childcare choices are very limited. We have chosen to forgo flexible and convenient childcare because the choice of available places is more limited than we would have liked.
“I don’t feel the way people live their lives should be dictated by a business model and I would like to see more choice for parents.”