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Childcare investment key to equal pay

Written by: Emma Lunn
The Young Women’s Trust says years of cuts leave young mums locked out of work and going hungry.

On Equal Pay Day, the Young Women’s Trust has called on political parties to put major childcare investment at the heart of their manifestos as new research shows young mothers are not only locked out of work and equal pay – but going hungry to afford childcare.

The charity said the UK could only significantly tackle the pay gap by investing in free year-round childcare from the end of parental leave, by offering 12 weeks of equal and paid for paternity leave on a “use it or lose it basis”, and by providing flexible schemes for those who work irregular hours.

Young Women’s Trust CEO Sophie Walker said the very idea of equal pay is a distant dream for young women whose first concern is how to balance the most basic needs.

“Today is the day we all talk about closing the pay gap. But our report reveals half of all working mums aged 18 to 30 skip meals at least once a week because they struggle to balance just getting to work against the cost, inflexibility and inaccessibility of childcare,” said Walker, “We’re a long way off dealing with the basic problem of access to paid work, which is the foundation of access to equal pay.”

Lack of flexible and affordable childcare

The charity’s Childcare: What Young Women Want report draws on findings from focus groups held across the country and a survey for Young Women’s Trust of UK mums aged 18 to 30.

It found more than three in four (78 percent) young mums said a lack of flexible and affordable childcare was a barrier to finding employment. Nearly six in 10 (57 per cent) were unable to take up employment because of a lack of suitable childcare options.

One in three young mums was forced to leave a job because she could not afford childcare and more than half of those polled said they would work more hours if they could find flexible childcare at an affordable price.

Two thirds of employed young mums are struggling or just about managing financially, rising to 82 per cent of those who are not working because they cannot afford childcare.

Skipping meals

The report also found one in four working mums skip meals every day to make ends meet. Half of working mums are skipping meals at least once a week to provide for their children – rising to 64 per cent among those on Universal Credit.

“If we are serious about ending poverty, driving economic growth and achieving sex and pay equality, then childcare must be treated as a fundamental part of the country’s infrastructure. Yet as our report shows, successive governments have failed young mums, especially those struggling to live on low or no pay,” said Walker, “It is scandalous that young women are having to skip meals to meet childcare costs and make ends meet. But it is also not surprising given that Britons pay for the most expensive childcare in Europe – an average of £127 per week or over £6,600 per year. Clearly, childcare has not been treated as a national priority.”

The research also found that discrimination and inflexibility by employers are making the situation worse, with one in four mothers polled saying they had been discriminated against after disclosing they were pregnant, and 40 per cent  saying they had been asked how being a mum affects their ability to work. One in three said requests to work flexible hours were turned down by their boss.

The Young Women’s Trust is calling on the next government to put childcare reform and supporting parents at the heart of their legislative programme.

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