Why should parents get help with childcare? That’s something I’ve read a lot on social media. It’s generally wrapped up with comments about people on benefits, or immigrants. People shouldn’t have kids if they can’t afford them. You get my drift.
Of all those sorts of comments, there’s one particularly type which stand out to me. It’s the ” I had it tough, why should you get it easy” type of remark.
“ How do you think we managed in our day?” one Facebook community member wrote on a childcare news story. It pops up on posts about lots of parenting issues, from childcare to parking spaces. It suggests that because one person struggled, we all should; or that they didn’t struggle so we all need to pull ourselves together.
It’s disappointing to read that sort of comment from another woman. And what annoys me even more is that there’s always a whiff of it being directed specifically to women. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but somehow I just don’t think I am.
I don’t rise to the bait and reply. I remind myself that perhaps they’re angry about another issue, this is their way of venting. It’s not trolling as such, it’s just being miserable. Maybe there’s resentment from having a tough time and not having any help. Perhaps that will be me in thirty years, but I hope not.
So what I am doing, is rolling up my sleeves to answer those who think that people shouldn’t get help with childcare costs, and by help I mean access to affordable childcare.
This is my open letter to you, this why is why modern parents are asking for more help when it comes to childcare.
There is increasing demand for childcare
The Office for National Statistics recently reported that for March to May 2018 more than 71% of women aged 16 to 64 were working, the highest employment rate for women since comparable records began in 1971. 80% of men in the same age range were also employed.
The rise in women in employment is partly due to an increase in the percentage of mothers in work. In 1996, 67% of married or cohabiting mothers were in work. By 2013 it was 72%.
If more parents work, there is an increased need for childcare in all its forms. Someone has to look after the kids, but who?
Only 20% of men and 29% of women are economically inactive. Family members and friends can’t help look after kids, they’re at work.
Demand for childcare is increasing with only half of local authorities in England and Wales reporting sufficient childcare for parents working full time. There is more competition for childcare places and fewer people to provide unpaid support to friends and family (because they’re working too).
Lack of local family
It’s not just there are fewer non working relatives to help care for young children, what you have aren’t local. Gone are the days of having family a few doors away who available to take up the childcare slack, like wrap around or school holiday cover.
Families are now more dispersed geographically than they were in the mid twentieth century. Many people I know have at least one set of grandparents that live some distance away.
I’ve known some families where grandparents have relocated to help with childcare but that simply isn’t an economic or desirable option.
The family help we have is aging
As we are having children later, our relatives, parents and grandparents are also inevitably older. This brings a heap of additional challenges.
Gone are the days of grandparents being in their forties and fifties and able to help out, we are asking people who are 70+ to help out sometimes. Even the most fit and able grandparent may be happy to help out with occasional care, but five days a week all year round?
Let’s face it, for some of us it’s not just that our relatives are older and less able to provide regular childcare help, many of us are actually caring for other older family members as well as our kids.
If you have older family who are fit and willing, they may well still be working anyway and of limited help. The retirement age is current 67 and set to increase.
The state help that’s available is often too late
Initiatives to provide additional funded childcare like the Childcare Offer in Wales and the separate scheme in England are welcome, but these don’t provide help in those first few years of having a child.
The employment rate for women increases with the age of the youngest child. In other words, you are you are less likely to work the younger your child is. When faced with costs of childcare or inflexible working arrangements, many mums just stay at home. There’s nothing wrong with being a stay at home parent, but what if you don’t want to be? What if financially you still need to work, as even after childcare costs, the few extra quid you take home means you can do the food shop each week.
Employment rates for women with children who are 2 years old or younger is 65% compared to 82% for those with children who are sixteen. As children become older, the pressures of childcare pickups, wraparound care, nursery fees and school holiday diminish. Of course, by then women are out of the workplace or have reduced their hours..
Rising cost of childcare
The cost of childcare for young children has risen more than four times faster than wages since 2008 according to recent TUC research . In some parts of the UK the cost of childcare has risen by even more – more than 7 times in London and the East Midlands for example.
Most parents with children who are two or younger receive no financial support with childcare. We have been paying £50 a day for more than two years. That’s more than our mortgage for just three days childcare a week. Gone are the days of paying that to a friend or relative for a full week.
Rightly, regulation of childcare providors has increased and that is no bad thing. Our childcare workers do an amazing job. It’s a good thing to ensure that they can continue to operate financially and that staff are compensated and trained. In real terms, paying someone around £5 an hour to care for your child including food and activities isn’t a lot, but when you consider that for many people that wipes out most of their earnings, it’s not surprising many people struggle.
The issue is complex
Telling women that they should stay at home to take care of their own kids isn’t an option. This isn’t Gilead. I can’t even bring myself to write why that is such a messed-up notion. I’m not saying that both parents should work or that staying at home is bad a thing either. It’s a choice for families to make together. I see value in all options. I see value in choice.
But, it is clear that a lack of affordable childcare means the choice is stripped from many families. If we want people paying into the system for a healthy economy, if we want women to have equality, if we want men to have parity in childcare and parenthood, we must get this right. Even at the basest of levels, we are an aging population. Who will be the next generation of carers, doctors, engineers, builders and more?
Telling people not to have kids they can’t afford isn’t the answer. Circumstances change, you can be financially secure one minute and redundant the next. Yes, as responsible adults we make choices about building our families. But we don’t want to be in some sort of engineered society where only those who are rich, or who can afford to be a single income household can have children.
Telling parents that you managed or struggled and so should they, doesn’t help either. We live in different social and economic times to the generations that went before us. That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact. Our children and grandchildren will have a different set of experiences too and we must remind ourselves of that when our rearing is done and we are looking at their choices and the world with disbelief.
In my humble opinion
The issues isn’t that working parents want handouts, they want help. They want flexible childcare arrangements and they want flexible working. They don’t expect to not have to contribute for childcare, but they need ways to make it work for them. They need to be able to balance the books when it comes to working.
We need to make it easier for men and women to share the responsibility for childcare, particularly in those early years by increasing the availability of flexible working and the social norms around men working part time or leaving the office early. We need to address how working parents are meant to cope with 9 weeks of school holidays.
We also need to find ways to support those who decide that staying at home, be that mum or dad, grandparent or other primary carer. We need that choice to be valued. We need to support them to re-enter the workplace in the future if they choose, valuing the contribution they’ve made during those years.
We need any solution to be sustainable. Something that endures and doesn’t penalise nurseries for the excellent care they provide. Private nurseries need to make a profit and nobody wants some children and families to be better off, only for other kids to be charged higher rates to compensate. We don’t want nurseries closing down. We love them!
There are more levels and layers to this than I can imagine, I know. There’s funding, there’s employers, there’s the legislative and policy framework which all major changes sit within. There’s views from all side and their is also personal responsibility.
I don’t have the answers, but I think a good starting point is to stop comparing the experience of families from thirty years ago to those of today, and indeed with our peers. I think a good place to start is accepting our experiences are different. All demanding, all challenging, but different.
Let’s try and be a little more understanding.