With the long school holidays well underway, parents up and down the country are grappling with logistical and financial challenges to secure the childcare they need. Everyday families face impossible choices as they juggle their careers and caring responsibilities, and will be desperately looking to the next prime minister for urgent solutions to tackle this crisis.
Coram Family and Childcare’s recent Holiday Childcare Survey has laid bare some of these challenges. The average place at a holiday club now costs £148 a week – a 5 per cent rise on last year and more than double what parents pay for an after-school club during term time. Families now find themselves almost £900 out of pocket for six weeks of holiday childcare for each school age child.
As the cost of living crisis sweeps across the nation, these eyewatering costs threaten to tip families into even deeper financial distress. And for some, the huge cost means that they simply can’t afford to work or even end up paying to work.
- Half of UK parents can’t afford childcare over the summer holidays
- Poorest parents spend three times more on childcare than the richest
But families aren’t just buckling under the cost of holiday childcare, we also found that many parents will struggle to find the type of childcare they need. Only 27 per cent of local authorities in England have enough holiday childcare available for parents in their area who work full time, down 6 per cent on last year. For parents of disabled children, the situation is even more dire, with only 7 per cent of local authorities in England reporting enough holiday childcare for these families, plunging from 16 per cent last year. Many parents rely on a patchy mix of formal holiday childcare, annual leave and unpaid leave, while cobbling together support from friends and family to plug the gap.
We now know that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on children’s educational outcomes and wellbeing – including rising levels of poor mental health and obesity. It is now more important than ever that school age children have access to safe, sociable, and stimulating environments where they can thrive outside the classroom. The Covid-19 learning loss has widened the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers, and long summer holidays without access to activities will only exacerbate these inequalities.
The alarming panorama of unaffordable and inaccessible childcare coupled with soaring living costs are symptoms of a broken system and it is a raw deal for children, families, workers and employers. But relaxing childcare ratios, a measure recently touted by the government and the subject of a consultation, is not the answer. It is a disappointing and unhelpful distraction that is unlikely to reduce costs for families yet will reduce quality. It will also place additional pressure on early years professionals who already feel underpaid and undervalued. Unsurprisingly, the proposal is also unpopular with parents, particularly those who have children with disabilities and additional needs.