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The real cost of childcare

The real cost of childcare

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.


46 thoughts on “The real cost of childcare”

  • I’m so lucky I have my mum to look after my baby girl for 3 days a week. The other two days my husband is with her (Saturdays & Sundays). But I’m sacrificing our family time together. We don’t have any time off together anymore. It’s how we can get by. Trouble is house prices are so expensive here in Cornwall and wages low so it takes two wages to pay a mortgage and live. We are stuck. My husbands wage is too much for us to claim any tax credits but no way near enough to support us all. At this moment there is no way we could afford another child. The whole childcare fees affair is disgusting and day-light robbery off honest hard working people. Xx

    • You’re so right, Rachel – we’re in a similar position. We earn too much to qualify for tax credits or a place in a council nursery, but not enough to afford full nursery fees. It must be so hard to have to sacrifice your family time.

  • Oh I completely agree! I worked full-time and had to employ a Nanny as was cheaper than putting three children into childcare but it was still just over a third of my income – it was the cost of childcare that was a huge factor in me giving up a career I loved – the blood sweat and tears and the leaving of the children didn’t balance out. I then looked for something that I could fit in around the children without childcare being needed – not career status sadly but what worked for us as a family. Something has to be done in reality so shout away for sure! #DreamTeam

    • I imagine a lot of women end up giving up careers they love for similar reasons. It’s all well and good to encourage people to pursue what they love, but that can be hard when you have to face the realities of childcare.

  • Yes! This! I am shocked by how expensive childcare is and why it isn’t more of an issue. This affects most people. It’s terrible that women who want to work can’t because of childcare costs. I’m just about going to manage to go back with one child. I cannot imagine how we’ll make it work if we ever have another #DreamTeam

    • I can’t either! I would like to have a second child someday, but I can’t imagine how I’d do it without going broke.

  • Yep it’s completely shocking. I’m so lucky as I work for the family business so I can be flexible and I am always going to be able to put family life first. We could actually survive on B’s money if we needed to as well – I really do appreciate this and know how fortunate I am. Of my two older sisters, both who have 3 kids, one of them had a job she could do from home but it often meant working until 2am because it’s so hard to get stuff done with little kids running about… and the other ended up leaving her career after having her third child as she was quite literally paying her entire wage over to childcare! She now has a part time job that she loves but it’s madness how they had to shift their priorities and bend over backwards because childcare wouldn’t work.

    • It’s great that you have such a flexible job! Adrian’s job is pretty flexible, but we’ve still had to work around childcare issues.

  • Yes! This, and inflexibility from my employer is why I didn’t return to work. I couldn’t afford full time or even part time childcare, it made returning to work financially pointless! It’s so frustrating! #familyfun

    • I hear too many stories like this – it’s horrible that so many people have employers who refuse to offer any flexibility.

  • I am totally with you on this! I was thinking about this earlier because I don’t quite understand how it’s so out of balance. I ‘did the maths’ and broke down my daughter’s daily fee to understand how it might be split. There isn’t a lot of spare in there if you assume the staff are paid at least minimum wage (and hopefully a little more) and costs of food / nappies / utilities are covered. So all I can think is the government needs to subsidise more. Because none of us want the people caring for our children to be underpaid and they have families, mortgages etc too.

    I am fortunate that my salary does cover it. But if we ever have a second it would be less economically viable. Given Little H is already 2, we would be able to claim some free childcare by the time any other child needed to go. But I’m on a decent salary so if I can’t easily manage it then I can really see how others would struggle. I know for a good friend of mine there was never even a question about her giving up work.

    As a country we need to stop seeing children as an inconvenience and support families. Putting children in nursery keeps women in work and creates more jobs too.

    I must write to my MP, although he has fobbed me off about everything else…. #DisillusionedwithPoliticians #DreamTeam #FamilyFun

  • You are bang on the button here! I found myself at a fork in the road last October, either go back to work full-time & pay over £700 a month in nursery fees (not including our commuting costs), or quit my job and stay home. My wages just weren’t enough to make it worthwhile going back. I just couldn’t imagine myself, struggling to get by, and sitting an that desk all day missing my child. So I stayed home & although we struggle still, I am much happier. Thanks for writing about this x

  • Boy do I hear this. It’s extortionate really. I wanted to return to work but with two nursery fees to pay for and the hour each way commute by time you add everything up I would just about break even and for what to drop my kids off crazy and early and rush home traffic depending to pick them up when either of us could get there? Financially it just didn’t make sense as hard a decision as it was. I am not sure what the answer is but surely it cannot be right that the cost is just THAT high. Thanks for sharing at #familyfun

    • With two kids and a long commute, it’s hardly worth it. I don’t know what the answer is either, but there definitely need to be more affordable childcare options.

  • This! I found myself nodding in agreement to every single word. We have 2 children under 3 plus we’re a military family, so even though after my first it was just about viable to go back to work, we moved house (for the 3rd time in 2 years!) and the 90 minute commute each way meant that there was no childcare whenever my husband was away. I can’t work evenings (again because hubby is often away and evening childcare is at least £15 p/h

    For me to go back full time would be £440 per week in childcare, and with my wage we would no longer receive child tax credits or working tax credits. It is ridiculous that it would actually make us worse off if I went back to work. I’m so angry about it. But then again we’re only here for another year and then we will be on the move again! I am most definitely one of the 29% but it wasn’t intentional! Great post.

  • I sooo agree with you. The cost of childcare is one of the main reasons I quit working in engineering after my second child. To put them both in full time daycare was going to cost the same as enrolling one of them into a private university! I’m not sure what the answer is, but childcare costs are ridiculous!

  • I sooo agree with you. The cost of childcare is one of the main reasons I quit working in engineering after my second child. To put them both in full time daycare was going to cost the same as enrolling one of them into a private university! I’m not sure what the answer is, but childcare costs are ridiculous!

  • I totally agree for those that want to go back to work it’s far too expensive for them and totally unfair. However I’m in the other camp a bit I’m afraid, my ‘career ‘ wasn’t anything high powered or special I couldn’t wait to give it up to be a Mum and be home for my children. I’m not going to say I’m lucky to have the support of my partner and his income because it’s not luck, it’s the way we engineered it and financially we are just getting by each month.
    Everyone is in their own unique situation though as I said at the start, for those that want to work it’s completely unfair! #familyfun

    • I think it’s great when women stay home with their kids by choice, but it’s really unfair when they’re forced into it because they can’t afford childcare. It forces people to make really difficult choices.

  • Jaw hits the floor – 4% a year her wages drop by! This makes me sad and mad in equal measure after being in school, college, university – investing in my future – having a baby was a beautiful addition but all of that means nothing now with the way things are stacked against us. I admit my situation is slightly different in becoming a carer, however I would like to think when my daughter can be left I would be better off financially not worse! …#Familyfun

    • You would think so, right? Surely you pick up skills as a parent that would make your more valuable to an employer, not less?

  • It’s infuriating! I totally get that it costs money to look after kids because it does. But I’m a teaching assistant making no money for a shit load of work that’s not in my contract to start with. We pay term time only and 3 days a week, which I’m told is really unusual for nurseries anyway. I’ve considered jacking it in due to affordability but once you’re out of schools it’s so hard to get back in. Eventually it will be an ideal job, it’s just the interim that’s going to be tough! Good Post! #BlogCrush #therealcostofchildcare

    • You’re right, it does cost money to look after kids – but somehow I doubt that my daughter’s nursery workers are seeing much of the expensive fees that I’m paying. Someone is definitely profiting, though…

  • The cost of childcare is indeed toe curling. I don’t know how anyone manages it really. But of course we have to remember that the ones working in this profession are worth their weight in gold. And indeed need to be paid accordingly. It’s one of those ‘stuck in the mud’ topics where it’s impossible to work out how childcare can be cheaper. Luckily it’s not forever. Thank you for sharing with the #DreamTeam x

    • I think nursery workers definitely need to be well compensated – but I know nursery jobs are often poorly paid. I suspect it’s the management that profits, not the people who actually watch our kids.

  • This is an issue that feels very close to home for me at the moment. I’ve been a stay at home mum for the last 5 years, but now a potential job has come up, and I just don’t know whether to go for it or not because it’s not really worth it by the time I’ve paid childcare costs. It’s such a tricky balance #blogcrush

    • That’s such a hard choice to make – I hope you’re able to do whatever you think is best for you and your family.

  • This is why we have so many grandparents doing childcare. But what do you do if grandparents aren’t around
    Or aren’t able to help? This is what the government are reliant on, families helping each other. It’s awful and
    You are righ we should be shouting about it! Thank you for linking up to # #ablogginggoodtime ?

  • The cost of childcare is indeed out of control. I am due back to work at the end of this month after having my second, and my part time wage will not cover our childcare costs. It will cost me about £50 per month plus travel costs to work, so about £100 a month in total. As I am writing this, I have no idea why I am even bothering! This really does need to be talked about more. #ABloggingGoodTime

  • It’s incredibly frustrating isn’t it?! I’m a teacher with 3 teacher and I’m basically going to work for my NI and pension payments!!!!!! It’s so very demoralising and when I’ve had the week I’ve had I wonder why I bother……. you’re right we should raise this more…… #ablogginggoodtime x

  • When I had my daughter I worked in an office across the city. We worked out that she would need to attend nursery for the full hours it was open (7-6) I’d have to finish work 45 mins early just to make sure that if buses were late or whatever I’d get there before it closed at 6 and it would cost exactly what I earned per week. I’d never see my daughter and I’d be bringing nothing in to the ‘house’. It made more sense to see my daughter all day and bring nothing in to the ‘house’. It’s not a system that works! #ablogginggoodtime

  • I went back part time, three days a week, and my daughter was in nursery three days. We paid £500 a month for nursery. I was bringing home about £400 a month after that. To sit in an office, be stressed and do a job I didn’t love enough. £100 a week for 3 days work… in a professional job. So we decided (for some other health reasons too) for me to stop. I’m now at home with her though she goes one day a week (to give me a break and to keep her skills up and to help me try build some freelance work). It’s mental. I just hope one day I can get back to where I was but who knows… #ablogginggoodtime

  • Unfortunately this is nothing new. The situation only ever seems to get worse not better. I went back to work after my first and second baby and at one point, I was paying for two of them in full time nursery care which worked out to be something like 80% of my wage. Absolute madness. After we had our third baby I gave up work to stay at home (and we later had a fourth baby!) The cost of childcare was definitely a factor in our decision for me to stay at home although not the main one. We were lucky that my partner was (is!) able to support us financially to do that though.

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