Childcare costs have reached eye watering levels in the UK in recent years, with analysis from the charity Pregnant Then Screwed highlighting British people face the second most expensive childcare system in the world. In light of this, Joeli Brearley, the founder and CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed, launched a UK Government and Parliament petition pushing for change.
The petition called for an independent review of childcare funding and affordability, as it detailed: “We have the second most expensive childcare system in the world. A full time place costs, on average, £14,000 per year, making it completely unaffordable for many families.
“Parents are forced to leave their jobs or work fewer hours, which has a negative impact on the economy and on child poverty.
“Childcare workers are paid so badly that one in 10 are officially living in poverty.
“Meanwhile, a lack of funding has resulted in 2,087 childcare settings closing in England in the first three months of 2021 when provision was already low.
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“Without an adequate and affordable childcare system, I do not believe we can achieve equality in the workplace as the majority of women still bear greater responsibility for childcare by comparison with men.
“I believe this is one of the biggest barriers for women and their career progress. It is clear that a change is long overdue. However, in the meantime, employers can help employees who are hampered by unaffordable childcare, by offering ad hoc flexible working or implementing simple adjustments for employees who need to work around school drop offs and pick-ups or other childcare arrangements or even permitting flexibility to enable them to integrate their work and family time.
“Employers could also help women through subsidy or an on-site facility which may encourage women to return to work because the barriers to doing so will not be as high. This initial investment to support employees makes business sense due to the long-term pay off in terms of engagement, retention and productivity.”
Despite these realities, many will be disappointed by the Government’s response to the petition.
The Government then went on to list some of the childcare support that is currently available to families, which includes:
- 30 hours of free childcare has been available for working parents of three and four year olds in England since 2017, which the Government claims benefited around 345,700 children in January 2020
- All the department’s entitlements provide free early education for parents across 38 weeks of the year
- The Chancellor announced on November 25 2020 a £44million investment for 2021-22, for local authorities to increase hourly rates paid to childcare providers for the Government’s free childcare entitlement offers
- A tax-free childcare scheme is also available for children from birth up to their 11th birthday. This specific scheme means that for every £8 parents pay their provider via an online account, the Government will pay £2
- Working parents on a low income may also be eligible for help with up to 85 percent of their childcare costs through Universal Credit
- In February 2021, the Government announced a further £10million for a pre-reception early language recovery programme to support early years staff in settings, and in June, it announced a further investment of up to £153million over three academic years, including funding for training early years staff to support the very youngest children’s learning and development
In responding to the Government’s decision, Joeli had the following to say: “The response form the Government to 110,000 concerned parents was not only insulting but it was nonsensical.
“The petition was asking for evidence that our childcare sector is both affordable and that it is properly funded; this response essentially informed us that there isn’t a problem with the Government’s childcare investment, or it’s affordability, whilst also refusing to collect the evidence that would prove that statement correct. Since receiving the email, we have been inundated with messages from furious parents who feel dismissed and ignored.
“The Government is gaslighting parents, childcare providers and childcare workers. We all know that the investment is not enough, that the childcare sector is on its knees, that there are hundreds of thousands of mothers who want to work but can’t because of the cost of childcare thereby preventing them from contributing to their families and the economy. We would have appreciated an open and adult conversation about this, but instead we have been met with obfuscation and nonsense.
“The debate will still take place in Westminster Hall in September, and if the Government refuses to collect the relevant evidence about our childcare sector, then we will just have to do that ourselves.”