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Half of UK parents can’t afford childcare over the summer holidays

Families across the country will be left almost £900 out of pocket during summer holidays, new research has found.

Half of parents in the UK will be unable to meet their childcare needs over the summer holidays, as new figures show prices have soared amid the cost of living crisis. 

Research from charity Pregnant then Screwed published on Tuesday found more than three quarters of parents (78 per cent) need formal childcare in order to work. But the extortionate costs mean four in 10 parents have to take unpaid leave to look after their children over the summer.

Coram Family and Childcare’s annual holiday childcare survey, which was also published on Tuesday, revealed holiday childcare costs have jumped by 5 per cent since 2021. 

The average place at a holiday club now costs £148 a week – more than double what  parents pay for an after-school club during term time. Families across the country will be left almost £900 out of pocket during summer holidays. 

Antoinette Johnson, a freelance social care consultant living in north-west London, has to take a month’s unpaid leave to care for her children this summer. She has a 16-year-old son with autism and learning difficulties and a three-year-old daughter.

Her daughter’s nursery shuts down for the whole of August, and she hasn’t been able to find any other early years provision that she can afford. There is a family wellbeing centre in Brent, offering activities for children, but a parent or carer has to stay with the youngest children, so it’s not an option for working parents.

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“It’s very difficult finding childcare,” Johnson said. “I’m going to have to take time out from work and use family and friends to help me with childcare. If I attend a meeting, I’m going to have to rely on a grandparent or sibling.”

Over two-thirds of parents with a disabled child say there is no adequate summer childcare in their area. And just 11 per cent say that there is adequate provision that they can afford, according to Pregnant then Screwed.

Last summer, Johnson managed to get holiday care for her son out of her borough in Kensington and Chelsea but that has now shut down due to lack of funding. The family wellbeing centre is offering one day a week of specialist provision for young people with learning disabilities from 10am to 3pm for free, but it’s not possible to get more than that.

The average cost of childcare in central London is £160.56 per week – nearly £1,000 per child for the whole of the summer holidays. Johnson claims that she would have to spend more than that on childcare for her son because of his additional special education needs. 

“Playschemes do take children with special education needs,” she said, “but they tend to be limited and the places go very quickly. They’re more likely to take a child who has been there for years rather than a new child, because they know that child very well.”

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The Coram Family and Childcare report finds only 7 per cent of local authorities have enough holiday childcare for  families of disabled children, a drop from 16 per cent in 2021.  

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of parents with a disabled child who are unable to access adequate or affordable provision say that they will have to cut back on essentials like food, heat, or clothing as a result. 

Chloe Long, a mother living in Buckinghamshire, is currently on maternity leave and has three young boys. Her oldest, who is eight, has severe learning disabilities and a rare genetic condition. He is non-verbal and has autism, and he goes to a special educational needs school. Long says he loves school and struggles during the summer without the routine it brings.

“He needs one-to-one care all the time,” Long explained. “He’s completely non-verbal and requires care for every element, looking after himself. He isn’t able to use the toilet, he has pads and he obviously struggles for communication. He doesn’t understand concepts like danger, so he really needs support round the clock.”

Chloe Long and her son Theo, who has autism and requires additional support.

Chloe’s partner is self-employed, and he has to take time out of work to look after their children.They can’t afford to employ a full-time carer for their oldest son at all times, and they haven’t been able to find any other provisions for him.

“It’s the mental strain that it has on parents,” she added. “When you’re caring for a disabled child, there’s so many different challenges – the emotional side but also physically. There’s so many battles that you have to take on in order to get access to the support and it does take a huge mental strain on parents, particularly in situations like summer holidays where there’s no access to any support

“There is just nothing to support parents. I think it’s really shocking because I know a lot of fellow parents of disabled children who have struggled with mental health issues. They just go completely unnoticed and they’re expected to continue to do this day in and day out.”

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Ellen Broomé, managing director of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “Families across Britain are reeling from record inflation and this steep rise in holiday childcare will push many further into financial distress. Many parents, particularly mothers, will have no choice but be locked out of work altogether or struggle to pay for basic necessities such as food or rent.  

“The lack of childcare places for working parents is a serious problem – not just for families but for the country’s economic output.  Children have experienced such disruption throughout the pandemic, and holiday childcare offers them a safe and fun space to stay active and connect with their friends while also helping to tackle the summer learning loss.” 

As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, Pregnant then Screwed found that more than a third of parents (35 per cent) will have to cut spending on essentials like food, fuel and clothing so they can afford childcare. Almost one in five (18 per cent) will get themselves into debt.

Of the 50.5 per cent of parents who have been unable to meet their summer childcare needs, 78 per cent are concerned this will limit their career prospects, according to Pregnant then Screwed.

Helen Hayes MP, Labour’s shadow minister for children and early years, said: “The Conservatives’ failure to fix the soaring costs of childcare is increasingly forcing parents – particularly mothers – out of their careers. Families are already struggling with rising bills and food prices and now face paying £900 in childcare costs per child this summer.

“High quality affordable childcare is essential. Right now, Labour would be delivering breakfast and afterschool clubs for all, alongside investing in early years childcare to keep costs down and enable parents to work the jobs and hours they choose. After 12 years of failing to get a grip on spiralling childcare costs, the Conservatives are now too busy warring amongst themselves to prioritise parents’ concerns.”

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