There’s no doubt that having a family can be hard work at times. There are so many things you need to think about when it comes to children and one of the biggest issues for many parents can be childcare, especially for younger children who aren’t at school yet.
Whether the worries come from the cost of childcare, or making sure that the kids have everything they need for a day at nursery, from portable changing mats for really young children to changes of clothes in case they get mucky, the list of things to consider can seem endless.
In many households around the UK both parents work. Whether that’s because they enjoy their jobs and want to continue in their careers while raising a family, or purely for the financial benefits of having two incomes, it can put a strain on families in other areas.
For single parents, it’s an even bigger challenge, as not working often isn’t a viable option financially.
A recent report by Comparethemarket.com revealed that a high proportion of working mums and dads are turning to friends and family for help, with grandparents the most-used source of childcare in the UK.
Some 30 per cent of those surveyed for the website’s Parentdex stated that grandparents were their preferred option for childcare, while nine per cent said it was other family members. Of course, many are happy to use other forms of childcare, with pre-school the next most popular option after grandparents – one used by 21 per cent of those questioned.
After-school clubs were also popular, with 14 per cent saying they regularly rely on this option to ensure their kids are looked after.
It’s only natural to want your family to be involved in bringing up your kids and there is likely to be a level of trust between you and your parents, in-laws or other relatives that makes this a great option if you live in the same area. But it isn’t only about who you trust, much of it comes down to money too.
Adding up the cost of childcare
In fact, one-third of parents who said they’d relied on family members to take care of their children estimated that they saved approximately £100 per week in childcare costs, adding up to a whopping £1,200 a year.
It’s little surprise that you’ll want to save money where you can on childcare given the cost of it in the UK. One in ten of the parents questioned for the survey said that it was their biggest household expense, after their rent or mortgage, with parents spending an average of £85.90 per week on childcare for children under the age of 13.
That equates to £4,500 a year, and while some families can afford the expense, others really struggle. Almost one-fifth of those surveyed said they’d had to alter their arrangements because of the cost, and others even revealed they’d borrowed money from their family to cover the expense.
This is only exacerbated during the school holidays, when many mums and dads are unable to take long periods of time off work to help take care of the kids while they’re not at school during the week.
According to figures published by the Labour party last month, the cost of childcare in the holidays has climbed by more than 50 per cent since 2010, and at the same time average weekly incomes have fallen in much of the country.
And sadly, the cost of childcare in the UK is expected to increase further in the coming months and years, the Comparethemarket report suggested. It cited issues like higher business rates for nurseries as being one of the reasons why it’s getting more expensive.
The Daily Mail also reported that some nurseries are having to charge for extras, such as meals and nappies, to help cover their costs as a result of the government’s new scheme to provide 30 hours of free childcare each week.
What is 30 hours free childcare?
This new government scheme, which will come into force in September, is for three and four year olds from families where both parents work and earn £100,000 or less a year, and allows families to access 15 additional hours of free childcare on what they receive now.
You need to earn an average of £120 per week to qualify, and it also covers single working parents as well as those who are self-employed.
The 30 hours of free childcare scheme is due to be introduced in the UK from September, and it will mean thousands of households are able to double the amount of free childcare they can access.
But, as the Daily Mail article suggests, there are clearly downsides to this as well as benefits. One of the main issues seems to be that providers aren’t being paid enough by the government to cover the scheme, hence the need to start charging for extra items.
The Birmingham Mail elaborated, explaining that the amount being offered by the government is £1.50 per hour less than it costs them to provide the service. As a result, a number of nurseries, childminders and pre-schools are limiting the number of spaces they offer, or opting out altogether.
That means it could be difficult to find a free childcare space for your youngster once September rolls around.
It’s also worth noting that the funding will only be provided for 38 weeks of the year, which won’t help much when it comes to covering the school holidays, unless one or both of you have a term-time only job.
Access to the scheme is proving difficult
The next challenge with this scheme comes from accessing it, with several rules in place that can make it hard for parents to join up in the first place.
In order to qualify, you need to contact HMRC to get a code that you can give to your childcare provider to prove you’re eligible for the extra hours of free care.
According to the Birmingham Mail, there have been a number of issues with the organisation’s computer system, which have so far made it difficult for parents to start the ball rolling ahead of September.
A further stumbling block is that you can’t qualify for funding until the start of the term after your child’s third birthday. That means if they turn three in the middle of an academic term, you’ll have to wait until you can receive your extra hours of care.
What other options are there?
For parents, this can all seem like a bit of a bleak picture when it comes to childcare, but there are other ways that you can get help with your childcare if you think outside the box.
According to the Comparethemarket survey, a growing number of parents are working with other mums and dads to find solutions, such as taking it in turns to pick the children up from school and looking after them in the final hours of the working day.
Over half (52 per cent) of UK parents rely on their friends – or the parents of their children’s friends – to collect their youngsters from school at least once a week.
Encouragingly, a growing number of employers are providing flexible working for parents, allowing them to organise their working day around their childcare commitments. Of those who have the opportunity to use flexible working, 66 per cent have taken advantage of the scheme.
And, as we’ve already mentioned, family plays an important role in helping parents look after their little ones.
Don’t forget to show your support
Where family is concerned, it can be easy to take them for granted. Another challenge for parents juggling childcare is making sure they show their appreciation for the family members and friends who help look after their children.
This doesn’t necessarily mean financially – although Comparethemarket points out that retired grandparents who regularly look after their grandchildren can apply for national insurance credits to help boost their retirement income – but also emotionally.
While grandparents will no doubt love to spend time with their grandchildren, remember that toddlers and young children can be tiring. Make sure your parents or in-laws have some time off from looking after the little ones too, so that they have a chance to rest and enjoy their own lives as well as spending time with their family.
Parents predominantly happy with childcare provision
The good news is that parents are predominantly happy with the childcare that’s offered by local providers, as well as with their current arrangements.
According to the Comparethemarket survey, only one-third of those questioned would change their current childcare arrangements if they had more money to spend. What’s more, 65 per cent of those who use a local childcare provider for some or all of their childcare rated these services as good or excellent.
Interestingly, many parents (40 per cent) believe that their local childcare providers are underfunded, with 30 per cent of parents with children under the age of 13 stating that a lack of funding is the biggest barrier to improving services in their area.
It seems that the government’s latest scheme will do little to address that issue, but with parents struggling to afford the climbing cost of regular childcare, and providers struggling to cover the expense of delivering this service, it seems there will continue to be issues in this area for some time to come.