Social Justice

‘Eye-watering’ childcare costs could force parents out of work this summer

For most families across Britain, holiday childcare is either too expensive or not available at all - meaning women could be forced to leave work this summer, according to new research

Families who have seen their finances hammered by the pandemic are facing “eye-watering” childcare costs this summer which could see them paying out more than double the price of term time care.

A shortfall in and the high expense of childcare could force parents and carers to give up work in order to stay home with their children, experts warned, with women in particular likely to be hit hardest.

Just a third of England’s local authorities reported having enough holiday childcare available for all the families in the area, according to research by national charity for families Coram Family and Childcare. Less than a fifth of English local authorities – 16 per cent – could meet childcare demand for disabled children.

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“This year more than ever parents are likely to struggle to find the childcare they need to be able to keep working and for their children to have fun and stay safe,” said Megan Jarvie, head of the charity.

“Rising costs and falling availability means that they are facing a double squeeze as they search for childcare they can afford that meets their needs.

“As the country plans to rebuild from the pandemic, it is vital that children and young people are placed at the centre of this recovery. Holiday childcare will be crucial for giving children a safe and fun space to catch up on lost learning and connect with peers.”

Childcare costs have risen by five per cent since 2019, Coram found after surveying provision for four to 14-year-olds across England, Scotland and Wales. Families now face paying an average £145 per week for a child’s place at a holiday club, more than double what they pay for an after-school club during term time.

Covid-19’s impact on the care sector means the number of places available for kids during the holidays is down in a third of local authorities in Britain. The findings are driving concerns that the childcare system will not stand up to demand if it rises back to pre-pandemic levels in the coming months.

Jarvie added: “Without action to make sure there is affordable out of school childcare for every child who needs it, we are at risk of seeing parents – and mothers in particular – struggle to keep working.” 

Nearly two thirds of working mothers with primary school age children do not have the childcare they need to cover the summer holidays, recent research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) showed, with nearly one in five (18 per cent) having already used up all their annual leave to homeschool their kids during previous lockdowns.

“Working mums picked up the lion’s share of caring responsibilities while schools were closed, with many sacrificing hours and pay to do so,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary at the TUC. 

“But while restrictions may be lifting and ministers talk about us getting back to normal, working mums are still feeling the impact of the pandemic. Most mums told us they don’t have enough childcare for the upcoming school holidays and are now facing a huge challenge managing their work and caring responsibilities this summer. 

“It shouldn’t be this difficult,” O’Grady added. “If ministers don’t act, we risk turning the clock back on generations of progress women have made at work.”

The Coram study also revealed a “postcode lottery” in childcare across Britain, with families in the south-west of England paying nearly 20 per cent more for holiday places than those in the North West.

Out of school childcare must be at the heart of central and devolved governments’ plans to build back from the pandemic, Coram said, and move to upfront payments for the childcare element of universal credit to ensure low-income families are not left out of pocket or forced out of work.

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