While millions of children relish the summer holidays, many parents are frantically worrying about how they will get any work done before the schools open their gates again in September.
The children’s charity Coram Family and Childcare’s last holiday childcare survey showed that parents paid more than twice the weekly term-time cost for childcare in the summer. Meanwhile, a third of councils said they did not have enough places for children whose parents worked full-time.
“It’s incredibly difficult,” says the charity’s managing director, Ellen Broomé. “Over the summer and as we go into the autumn, it will be really challenging for many, and there will be parents for whom it simply won’t make any sense to work; they’ll be locked out of a job.”
The charity is due to publish its latest holiday childcare survey on 19 July and, says Broomé: “It is likely to show price increases and ongoing challenges around childcare availability.”
Alicia Ieronymides is a paediatric community nurse based in Watford. She works from 8am to 6pm three days a week, plus some weekends and on-call shifts.
Her husband, Micky, a web developer, commuted to London several times a month before the coronavirus pandemic but now works from home full-time. It’s just as well, Alicia says: “I wouldn’t be able to do my job if he wasn’t at home.”
Alicia leaves the house before 7.30am, and Micky takes Ely, seven, and Roo, five, to school in the morning, and two-year-old Ivy to her childminder. After school he picks up the older children and takes them to the childminder so he can finish his working day. It is costly – the Ieronymides family estimate they pay about £750 a month in childcare, taking into account childcare vouchers – and it’s a juggle but it works.
As for the summer holidays? “It is anxiety-inducing,” Alicia says. Her annual leave is restricted to no more than two weeks in the summer. The rest of the time, the children will be going to a variety of clubs and childminders while their parents work.
“The difficult thing is that the clubs don’t run all summer. Some last three weeks, some are only three days a week, so that’s no good if they are not my work days,” Alicia says. “They are short days, too – 9am-3pm – which is difficult.”
The family will be mixing and matching activities, with the three children often in different places. “I have a spreadsheet so I can plan what everyone is doing and when,” she says. “Last year I showed it to my parents, with the days when we were stuck, and they covered those ones. This year my best friend will be helping, too.”
Then there’s the cost. They ruled out signing up for a club at a farm that was charging about £50 a day but still have a club at the local primary school (£25 a day), a football club (about £140 a week) and an outdoor forest school (£33 a day). Alicia will use the money she has saved through the childcare voucher scheme towards the fees but she says: “I don’t like to think too much about the cost because it feels like I don’t have a lot of choice.”
One bit of good news for parents is that the government schemes set up to help with childcare costs, such as tax-free childcare, can also be used for eligible holiday clubs and activities.
“Parents should check to see whether they’re using their income in as tax-efficient way as possible to pay for childcare,” says Emma Corina, the director of strategic planning at YMCA Fairthorne Group, covering Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, which offers day and residential holiday clubs.
“Lots of providers are registered to accept those types of payments as well, which can really bring the cost down.”
Rushani Mahendran, the product and operations manager at MAMA.codes, a coding school for children, will be looking after her children, Kya, seven, and Neo, four, without using any external childcare.
While her husband, Raj, usually goes to the office, Mahendran works from home. “I try to wake up an hour or so before the children to work. Then, when they get up, I make sure I am completely with them to start the day. That’s usually between 8am and 10am.” After that comes two hours of designated work time. “I schedule meetings and so on during that time, and the children play independently.” She then stops work for lunch with the children and gets back at her desk in the afternoon, when the kids might read a book or watch a film, and then play a game related to the story.
Dividing up the day this way is possible because the company Mahendran works for has built in a parent-friendly flexible approach. “There’s a lot of asynchronous working, so colleagues don’t always need to be available at the same time. And between 8am and 10am, when I’m with the children, I make it clear that I’m not going to be available and will respond later.
“It is tough but persevering with it has really paid off. The children have learned to be quite independent and to occupy themselves when I’m busy working.”
The rising cost of childcare is a huge headache for millions of parents. According to Coram Family and Childcare, part-time (25 hours a week) childcare for a child under two now costs on average £138.70 at a nursery in Great Britain, while full-time (50 hours a week) typically costs £269.86. It is marginally cheaper with a childminder: £237.28 and £124.41 respectively.
For school-age children, the cost of after-school clubs and childminders may be lower but it can still be prohibitive: the weekly cost of an after-school club in Great Britain is on average £66.52, while a childminder until 6pm costs on average £71.39.
“Prices tend to track above the base rate of inflation,” Broomé says.
“The other barrier parents face is the availability of childcare, which makes it quite a toxic mix.
“Only 21% of local authorities say they have enough childcare for disabled children, and only 59% have enough for parents working full-time.” Only 19% of local authorities can cater to the childcare needs of people working atypical hours, and a quarter have enough after-school facilities for five to 11-year-olds.
One of the issues, Broomé says, is a “brewing recruitment and retention crisis in early years” childcare. It is something that Emma Dewey, the founder of Babyem, a company specialising in training for childcare professionals, has seen first-hand. Dewey’s company has worked with childminders, au pairs, maternity nurses and nannies but today she is seeing a significant shift in the industry.
“Since Brexit and Covid, I have seen our training numbers dip. We are a sector that is full of people from all over the world, and so many people have gone to their home country,” Dewey says. “The au pair sector has disappeared.”
This in turn places extra pressure on other childcare places.
“There’s a finite number of childcare providers,” says Richard Conway, the chief executive of Childcare.co.uk, a platform that allows parents to find local providers. “And there is a very high demand. Especially after things like Brexit, when a lot of the European childcare providers who had been working here have gone, which has left a shortfall.”
How to find childcare
Every local authority must provide a family information service. “They have lists of all registered provision in their area, whether that is childminders, holiday clubs, breakfast clubs and so on. They can help with brokering and give information on financial support around childcare,” Broomé says.
Childcare.co.uk allows parents to post their childcare requirements – from ad hoc babysitters to live-in nannies – and to invite providers to get in touch, while providers can also place adverts, too. Full membership is £14.99 for two weeks, and to remain a member after that costs £24.99 a month.
What help can you get? Here are some of the official schemes
Tax-free childcare: for every £8 you pay into an online account, the government puts in an extra £2, up to a maximum of £2,000 a child a year, or £4,000 for disabled children. This is for working families (including the self-employed) in the UK with children under 12 (under 17 if disabled). You use it to pay for registered childcare – a childminder, nursery, etc. However, the provider must be signed up. To benefit, you must each earn on average at least £152 a week but less than £100,000 a year.
Childcare vouchers: this programme closed to new applicants in October 2018 but those who signed up prior to that can pay for childcare via salary sacrifice, which cuts the cost by allowing you to pay from your pre-tax salary.
Thirty hours free childcare: available to working families in England with three- and four-year-old children. It lets you get 30 hours of free childcare or early education for 38 weeks.
Universal credit for childcare: with this, you may be able to claim back up to 85% of your childcare costs. It is for working families claiming universal credit in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
July 16, 2022 at 11:57AM Sandra Haurant