I recently came across the Minimum Income Calculator, which aims to answer the question: do you earn enough for a minimum acceptable standard of living?
It asks a few basic questions: how many adults you live with, if you’re a pensioner, and how many children you have and their ages. And as it turns out, the answer is no. My standard of living is pretty unacceptable.
Why? I have a professional job and earn a decent wage – but I also have a child under two.
A few weeks ago, Adrian and I had to cut back on the number of days that the Popple goes to nursery for financial reasons. She had been attending three full days a week, which was costing me more than I pay in rent each month – over £100 more, in fact. I could have been renting a second considerably nicer flat for the amount that I was spending to put her in nursery part time.
Our situation is by no means unique. A 2012 report estimated that childcare costs in the UK are the second highest of any country except for Switzerland, with households spending an average of 26.6% of the family income on childcare, or 40.9% of an average adult wage.
Forty f-ing percent. Some of the childcare highest costs in the world.
How did I not know about this? Why aren’t we all talking about this more?
No wonder so many women drop out of the workforce after having a baby – all too often, it simply doesn’t pay to work. Around 29% decide that returning to work after a baby isn’t financially worth it. Think about that. Almost a third of all mothers – women with skills and knowledge that they could otherwise contribute to the economy – are forced to give up their jobs because of eye-wateringly high childcare costs.
If they manage to scrape by after their first baby, having a second one just might do them in. After all, they face the option of staying home with their young children, or forking out 80% of their wages for the privilege of sitting in an office chair for eight hours a day. How many people like their job that much? By the time they factor in commuting costs, many women find that it would actually cost them money to return to work full time.
Any system that disincentivizes millions of women who want to work is fucked. Seriously fucked. I’m talking Trump-level, Brexit-style fucked. Yes, the English and Scottish governments are extending the number of free childcare hours for three and four-year-olds (and vulnerable two-year-olds), but that still forces many women to remain jobless for the first few years of their child’s life. And for every year a women is absent from the workforce, her future wages fall by 4%.
This isn’t sustainable. It can’t be. So let’s shout about it, yeah? Let’s write to our MPs, make some noise on social media and share blog posts about how we’ve been affected by high childcare costs – because having young children and minimum acceptable standard of living shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.