Lovewell’s logic: How can we overcome the UK’s childcare crisis?

As temperatures soar this week, it finally feels as though summer has arrived. While the sunshine is undoubtedly welcome while it lasts, for many working parents, it may also serve as a sharp reminder that the long school summer holidays are fast approaching.

The high cost of childcare in the UK means this can be a significant source of stress for many working parents, as it already is for many parents of pre-school children. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that the UK has some of the highest childcare costs among leading economies. A family with two children under the age of three in full-time childcare, for example, can expect to spend around 22% of their household income on childcare, according to OECD data. Research published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) this week, meanwhile, showed that childcare costs have risen by approximately £2,000 a year since 2010.

It is perhaps little surprise, therefore, that some working parents, particularly (although not exclusively) mothers are choosing to leave the workforce altogether. After all, why would someone choose to work primarily to pay someone else to look after their children? Research published by Pregnant Than Screwed and Mumsnet in March 2022, for example, found that 43% of the 27,000 mothers surveyed said that the cost of childcare has prompted them to consider leaving their jobs, while a further 40% have had to reduce their hours due to the cost.

This may well mean employers are losing valuable talent and experience from their workforce. In the era of the Great Resignation, when competition for talent is already fierce in a number of industries, this can pose a considerable challenge.

Organisations such as Pregnant Than Screwed, led by founder Joeli Brearley, as well as public figures such as Anna Whitehouse, are currently taking campaigns for better support for the childcare industry and a subsequent reduction in the cost of childcare to government. In the absence of any government commitment of support to date, however, should employers step into the gap to offer more support? Should there be a greater focus on flexible-working arrangements to help staff juggle work and caring responsibilities? Or could the cost of subsidising the cost of childcare to a degree be justified by the advantages of retaining and attracting talented members of their workforce?

One thing is clear, if the situation continues unchecked, more employees are likely to find themselves unnecessarily priced out of the workforce.

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell