The parent trap: Hunt is not helping British mothers back to work | Economics


In his autumn statement, chancellor Jeremy Hunt promised to address the labour shortage by conducting a “thorough” assessment of the barriers and incentives to work. Since the pandemic, an extra 630,000 working age adults in the UK have become economically inactive, while job vacancies are close to a record high.

To put the brakes on an exodus from the British job market, Hunt announced measures including a crackdown on benefit claimants. However, he made no mention of childcare provision.

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of women not working to look after family has risen by 5% in the past year. Here, four mothers explain why the scarce availability and eye-watering cost of childcare prevents them from working as many hours as they would like, or has driven them out of the job market altogether.

‘We already use savings to get by’

New mums Celine, left, and Laura at home.
New mums Celine, left, and Laura at home. Photograph: Si Barber/The Guardian

When Celine and wife Laura, both 34, found Laura was expecting twins, they knew one of them would have to quit their job. Laura, who works in translation, found a new job paying £42,000, so Celine, originally from France, gave up her full-time university admin job, where she had been earning £27,500. “I’d just had a promotion,” she says. “There was a staff nursery, but it cost £660 a week for both children. I’d have had to be on at least £40k to make that feasible.”

Laura says the couple, who live in Norwich, can just cover living costs and student loan repayments. “We have no financial wriggle room,” Laura says. “We already use savings we had hoped would help us get on the property ladder.

“If bills go on rising, I don’t think my salary can cover it all.”

Celine has resigned herself to the reality that she will have to wait until the now five-month-old twins qualify for government funded childcare at the age of three before she can look for work again.

Both worry that Laura’s one-year fixed-term contract may not be extended.

“We’re in a high risk position now. We may have to move my family to France, if things don’t work out here. We have discussed it.”

‘I wouldn’t claim universal credit if I had free childcare’

Ciara, an NHS worker from Birmingham, would like to become a nurse but had to give up all work as she couldn’t find childcare.
Ciara, an NHS worker from Birmingham, would like to become a nurse but had to give up all work as she couldn’t find childcare. Photograph: Ciara/Guardian Community

Ciara, 33, from Birmingham, used to earn £1,350 a month after tax as an NHS reception supervisor, but after her daughter was born, she realised nursery would cost about £90 a day.

“Some nurseries don’t even accept babies under 18 months,” she says. “I was offered a 37.5-hour contract on up to £21,000, but inflexible work times and nursery fees meant I’ve just had to give up work completely.”

Ciara’s security guard husband earns about £17,000 a year after tax, and they get about £800 a month universal credit. The family find it hard to get by. “After fixed costs, I have £400 a month, for everything from food to baby clothes. We’d have to save for months to go out for a meal. I find it unbelievable that the government is giving parents thousands [in benefit payments] to sit at home just to survive in a miserable situation.”

Ciara says she would like to train to be a nurse, but can’t see how this could work due to a lack of adequate childcare provision.

“It would involve 30 hours a week during training, including 12-hour shifts, and such hours aren’t covered by nurseries. I wouldn’t claim universal credit if I had free childcare, I want to contribute and give back to society. Parents would go and get a full-time job if there was childcare.”

‘After-school childcare costs more than our mortgage’

Debra, mother of boys aged two and five from Surrey, left a full-time teaching job in 2018 for a part-time job as a control room operator with the police. But after her second son was born, in 2021, she had to leave, as childcare would have been impossible to fit around her shifts. “I’ve done patchwork stuff since then to keep ticking over,” the 39-year-old says. Her husband, who also has three children from a previous relationship to support, works full-time as a maintenance man in a care home, which ignored his requests for flexible hours.

Debra, who has a master’s degree, now teaches part-time and does some remote work, totalling about 25 hours a week. “I do what I can,” she says. “I need a full-time income, but can’t find any childcare.”

“The after-school club is full, and I’ve been advertising for an after-school nanny for three weeks and there is no interest.”

The couple have a combined household income of about £40,000 pre-tax a year, and currently spend £430 a month on a childminder to look after their youngest on three half days a week. They could pay for some additional childcare if there was any, but it would have to be more affordable than the limited options on offer, Debra says.

“I would like to work as an SEN teacher, and did look at full-time jobs again recently and called a nanny agency. They quoted an hourly charge of £15: that’s unaffordable. After-school childcare for both boys would cost about £8,500 a year – more than our mortgage.”

‘The government don’t help’

For single mother Mannon, 35, from Basingstoke, there was no option but to give up her job in digital marketing, where she was earning £25,000 gross. “I had to come to the office four days a week, and worked one day from home,” she says. “I used to pay £1,200 a month to put my 16-month-old in nursery five days a week.”

But after she broke up with her partner, childcare became unaffordable. “The commute was about an hour and I often had to pay for taxis because buses were unreliable. It was very expensive. Now, I don’t work at all and am trying to find a part-time remote job, to put savings on public transport towards nursery fees. I’m also looking into retraining to change careers, but this may require volunteer work I can’t afford.”

Mannon, who has an MA in marketing plus qualifications in travel and tourism, is now on universal credit, and says she has been asked to attend JobCentre sessions to discuss her plans to find work when her child is three.

“The government wants more people to work, but they don’t help [in making that possible].”

Like it? Share with your friends!


What's Your Reaction?

hate hate
confused confused
fail fail
fun fun
geeky geeky
love love
lol lol
omg omg
win win


Leave a Reply