Does the UK have the most expensive childcare in the world?
Yes, according to an OECD report. By a lot, actually.
But when Joeli Brearley from Pregnant Then Screwed pointed this out, the BBC published an article that begged to differ.
The problem, they said, was that the OECD report shows what it would cost to send two children (aged two and three) to a ‘typical’ nursery for at least 40 hours each week. It assumes both parents are in full-time employment, where one parent earns an average wage and the second parent earns 67% of an average wage.
“In this example – which the claim is based on – we’re looking at a relatively well-off couple,” the article said. “Parents on lower incomes in England may be eligible for additional support, which will reduce their childcare costs.”
Let’s do the maths, shall we?
The average UK salary is £27,271 – and 67% of that is £18,271.57, giving an average household income of £45,542.57. The OECD report says that the net cost of childcare in England is 55% of average earnings. That means this ‘well-off’ family will shell out £25,048 for childcare per year – significantly more than the lower earning partner’s annual salary. Why should she (or he – but let’s face it, it’s usually she) bother working at all?
(By the way, if you want to check whether it’s worth it for you to work, here’s a really depressing calculator that you can use to find out. If you’re a middle-income earner and you have kids, chances are you’re not banking much.)
The article points out that if you’re a low-income single parent with two children, universal credit helps cover your childcare costs. In this scenario, England is the eighth most expensive country for childcare – not the first.
It’s great that low-income families get support for childcare. They should. But what happens to those of us in the middle – too ‘well off’ to qualify for support, but not wealthy enough to happily chuck more than half our earnings at a nursery?
But what about the 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds?
It’s a step in the right direction, but parents still have to spend the majority of their wages on childcare up until their kid’s third birthday. Many mothers take a few years off from work because they don’t fancy wasting their entire paycheck on childcare – and who could blame them? But even if they eventually return to work, they may feel the affects of their career break for years to come. As they miss out on pay rises and job opportunities, the wage gap widens between them and their male peers.
Also, many nurseries also don’t offer the 30 hours because they can’t afford it – and more than half of those that DO offer the scheme are having to increase the costs of non-funded childcare for younger and older children. Other nurseries have simply shut their doors because the funding the government offers is less than the actual cost of childcare.
So what’s the bottom line?
Childcare in Britain costs a shit ton of money. Very few families can afford to spend more than half their household income of nursery fees, and it’s unreasonable to expect them to do so.
We can do better.
No surprise there, eh? For our northerly neighbours, the idea that everyone – not just a select few – should have access to affordable childcare is ingrained in their culture.
“Childcare is a means to make economic growth. If we have parents working now, it means they don’t have to have support when they’re older – it’s good for society,” said Johanna Storbjörk, a political advisor at Sweden’s Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.
This isn’t just about changing policy. It’s about changing the way that we think about working mothers and what we can contribute to the economy. Our government says, “Can we afford to fund comprehensive childcare?”, but that’s the wrong question. What they should really be asking is, “Can we afford NOT to fund it?”