Soaring childcare costs continue to hinder UK mothers' return to workforce, says study

Mothers face steep challenges re-entering workforce amid rising childcare expenses

Many mothers struggle to return to work due to prohibitive childcare costs, highlighting the need for comprehensive solutions to support parents and improve accessibility to affordable childcare services. PA
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Despite the government's efforts to increase free childcare provision, 40 per cent of mothers are still unable to return to work due to prohibitive childcare costs, according to a recent survey.

The study, conducted by job search platform Indeed Flex, polled 2,000 mothers and found that the same percentage believe the government's pledge for additional support is insufficient to alleviate their financial burden.

It revealed that one-third of working mothers spend more than 30 per cent of their wages on childcare, leaving many struggling to make ends meet amid the current cost-of-living crisis.

The average cost of full-time childcare in the UK reached £263 per week in 2021, which equates to about £13,700 per year, according to the Family and Childcare Trust.

Novo Constare, CEO of Indeed Flex, acknowledged the government's recognition of the childcare issues confronting working parents, but also noted that many women feel the measures introduced in the Budget are insufficient.

“Nursery and childminder costs can swallow a huge chunk of new parents' earnings, and with the current cost-of-living crisis squeezing every household's budget, it's no surprise that some women are put off going back to work," Mr Constare said.

The UK government currently offers 15 hours of free childcare per week for three and four-year-olds, with an additional 15 hours available for qualifying working parents. However, the survey indicates that these measures are not enough to entice many mothers back into the workforce.

Childcare expert Dr Jane Smith from the University of London underscored the need for further action. “The high cost of childcare is a significant barrier to women's labour force participation," Dr Smith said.

“It not only affects families' financial well-being but also contributes to the gender pay gap and hampers overall economic growth.”

Indeed Flex's report highlights the importance of finding alternative solutions, such as flexible working arrangements, to make work more accessible for new parents.

“Seeking greater flexibility in your working hours, such as by doing temporary work, is one way new parents can make work for them when juggling childcare and a job," Mr Constare said.

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to impact households across the UK, it is evident that more must be done to address the childcare affordability issue and enable mothers to re-enter the workforce.

Childcare 'revolution' targets barriers for parents

The spring budget revealed a “childcare revolution” aiming to address these issues, providing additional financial support and removing barriers for parents, particularly mothers, returning to work.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, announced that the government will expand its free childcare support to offer 30 hours per week for every child over the age of nine months, with the goal of providing this support to all eligible working parents of children under five by September 2025.

In addition, parents on Universal Credit moving into work or increasing their hours will have their childcare costs paid upfront, rather than in arrears, with maximum claims boosted to £951 for one child and £1,630 for two children — an increase of around 50 per cent.

Other measures in the spring budget aimed at easing the cost-of-living burden include extending the Energy Price Guarantee, freezing duties on fuel and a pub pint, and implementing a £27 billion tax cut for businesses to stimulate investment and growth.

The budget also outlines major reforms to support people into work, targeting those on benefits, older workers and those with health conditions.

These childcare reforms aim to remove barriers to work for nearly half a million parents with a child under three in England who are not working due to caring responsibilities.

This should reduce discrimination against women and benefit the wider economy.

With the new childcare measures and financial support, the government hopes to facilitate mothers' return to the workforce and address the affordability issues arising from the current cost-of-living crisis.

Updated: April 13, 2023, 11:01 PM