The short answer to this is yes. In the Family and Childcare Trust’s research Improving our understanding of informal childcare in the UK, published in July 2012, we called for grandparents to be given the right to share maternity leave and we are delighted the government has listened and announced that this will become a reality for 14 million grandparents in the UK.
Our research showed that nearly half of parents in Britain used informal childcare arrangements, with grandparents the most likely to provide this childcare. And for over a third of parents who use childcare, grandparents are their main form of childcare.
Parents use grandparents to care for their children for many different reasons; to care for very young children; make childcare more affordable; to cover after-school and holiday childcare; in an emergency or when a child is ill; and to cover childcare outside of normal office hours.
Grandparents make a huge contribution. Research by the Family and Childcare Trust with Grandparents Plus and Save the Children, published in July 2014, found that 1.9 million grandparents have given up a job, reduced their hours or taken time off work to look after their grandchildren. Around 2.2 million grandparents look after their grandchildren to allow the child’s parents to get to work and one million do so because the parents cannot afford childcare.
This announcement was very welcome but it is important that we do not think this is a like-for-like replacement for good-quality formal childcare in a nursery, by a childminder or after-school clubs. At the moment, only 43% of local authorities say they have enough childcare for working parents. Grandparents should not be relied on to fill the gaps in provision. More women in their 50s and 60s are employed than ever before and the state pension age has gone up to 65, so many grandparents will simply not be able or willing to give up work to care for grandchildren full time.
We need a flexible, affordable, high-quality childcare system that meets the needs of working parents, enables parents to balance work and caring responsibilities, and that does not force women out of the labour market when they have children or grandchildren.
Ellen Broome is director of external affairs at the Family and Childcare Trust