Does the UK have the most expensive childcare in the world?

Working parents / Sunday, February 18th, 2018

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.”

Err… ‘well-off’?

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.

Scandinavia does 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?”

Does the UK have the most expensive childcare in the world?

Rhyming with Wine

14 Replies to “Does the UK have the most expensive childcare in the world?”

  1. It does seem like the cost of childcare negates any benefit from working in the UK. We have such ridiculously high costs anyone in a ‘typical’ job will struggle financially to support the family too. #FamilyFunLinky

  2. I am so glad you pointed this out. The BBC often has trouble with the word ‘average’. I had a rant to my husband about the article. If someone on an average wage is well off, well something dramatic must have happened to our economy. Truth is, an average income is just that – average. Joeli is doing amazing work and I think the BBC should be ashamed for trying to bring her down with that report #FamilyFunLinky

  3. This is really interesting and i was only talking to a friend yesterday about childcare costs. It irritates me that the hours are all income based too, so as with most things you get penalised for working hard! :-/ #familyfun x

  4. It is so shocking when you calculate how much childcare is and for me personally made it impossible to go back to work. I wrote a post last year on being a stay at home mum made financial sense. :-). If you want to have a read I have the link the below.

    Also, with the 30 hours for some 3/4-year-olds it is great but I find at that stage it is too late. Parents who go back to work have to try and live on less so they can fund the childcare in hope that it will get easier by that time. Other parents have to leave their job because the childcare costs are just way too much, then by the time they do apply for work, those years of not working and looking after the children, I find make it harder in getting a job.

    🙂 x

  5. I don’t think I ever want to go back to work 😂
    I do hate the words average income. The average income always seems so unachievable. I can’t imagine paying for childcare using most of a wage, would be pretty soul destroying. ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

  6. I really don’t know what’s happened to the BBC of late … Childcare in the UK, plus the costs of housing combined with low / static wages is making life so hard for families and the BBC is talking semantics. 🙁

  7. Life has been made a bit difficult for families because of the attitudes towards funding childcare. Businesses are missing out on hard working employees because of wages not matching up to the cost of childcare, and the government not investing enough in this area to support parents and nurseries. There needs to be a shift in attitudes in this country toward working parents, and not just from the government but businesses too. There needs to be a better offering of flexible working and more help for mums who want to advance their career. #dreamteam

  8. So much love for this post! There must be so many families, ourselves included, who earn under the average household wage and are STILL classed as well-off. When I increased my days from two to two and a half last year, the sad fact of the matter was that if I used childcare for that whole duration, I would be worse off than if I just stuck to two days. As it was, my boss is flexible enough that I can split the extra half a day over two days and wait for my husband to come home to take over the childcare. And what’s even worse than this is the fact that when Baby Lighty hits the age for 30 free hours, our childminder doesn’t even accept them!! I feel like we’ll be paying for childcare forever more!! Apologies for this essay, and thank you so much for linking this to #DreamTeam!

  9. It drives me crazy how much I’ve spent on childcare over the last few years. I know I’m an extreme case but I had four children in just under four years and carried on working part time (because my parents were able to take on most of the childcare). You only need to look at countries like the Scandinavian ones to see that there is a much better way of doing things #dreamteam

  10. It’s interesting to see how other countries deal with this problem. I’ll be honest and say the reason I haven’t gone “back to work” yet is because I just can’t face spending my entire pay packet on childcare. Plus, having had several years break to be a stay at home mum, my employment prospects are not too rosy – I’m going to be at the bottom of the ladder again. It sucks… #dreamteam

  11. I agree that the cost of childcare in the UK is ridiculously high. That needs to addressed. However, having experienced the Swedish system too, especially as a child (being born and raised there), I’m not 100% positive about that either. It has made it the norm for mums to go back to full-time (or at least very close to full-time) from when the kid is about a year old or sooner. The ‘institution’ looks after the child, so that both parents can work, and house prices etc reflect the norm of families having a double income. Being a SAHM is seen as rather old-fashioned and weired. So… while I’m not trying to argue against anything you’re saying here, I’m not super happy about the Swedish way, where you could argue that the child belongs to the state as much as to its parents… It’s tricky… #DreamTeam

  12. With two children just 2 years apart and no local family that can help, I have spent 3 years working two days a week. But childcare for two children in nursery over the last year has actually cost more than I earn. I’ve been working just to “keep my job” which is bizarre. Such an important post. Thanks for linking to #DreamTeam x

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