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One in four parents stop working because of high childcare costs

Rebecca Goodman
Written By:
Rebecca Goodman

Around a quarter of UK parents (23%) say they have quit a job or dropped out of education because of the high costs of childcare, according to a new report.

In comparison the figures were 33% in India, 27% in the US, 22% in the Netherlands, 17% in Brazil, 16% in Turkey and 13% in Nigeria.

More than three quarters of the 7,000 carers asked by the charity Theirworld also said they find it difficult to pay for childcare costs.

While the figure is 52% in India, 57% in the Netherlands, 59% in Nigeria, 68% in the US and Brazil, and 72% in Turkey.

A fifth, 22%, of those asked also said they spend between 30% and 70% of their income on childcare costs.

Almost two thirds, 65%, said they had made major financial changes, such as taking on more work and buying less food, to pay for childcare fees.

In the UK parents pay the highest costs of any developed country, according to the OECD, and most don’t receive any free childcare hours until their child turns three. But at the same time providers are struggling financially with many closing because of rising costs.

Yet the report warns that the early years is also when deep societal inequality sets in.

It says children from more prosperous, educated backgrounds tend to begin primary school ready to learn, but more than 40% of children in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not attaining their full development potential. This is because of poverty, inadequate nutrition, exposure to stress and a lack of early stimulation and learning.

The report comes as a major shake up to the childcare system was announced in the budget last month. It will see all children having access to 30-free term-time hours of childcare, from September 2024.

Universal access to affordable, quality childcare

The charity is urging governments around the world to rethink the early years provision. It says the following factors should be included:

  • Universal access to affordable, quality childcare to every child
  • Invest in a fully-trained, qualified and funded early years workforce
  • Deliver on the internationally-agreed target to invest 10% of education funding in pre-primary education and learning
  • Deliver an integrated approach to early years interventions across sectors and government
  • Prioritise and track early years investments in all aid budgets and programmes
  • Stage the first ever International Financing Summit on the early years by 2025 to kickstart an international decade of action on the early years and prioritise the needs of marginalised children

Sarah Brown, chair of Theirworld, said: “For a child, the first five to six years are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but this is being squandered on a global scale.

“Providing for children in their early years must be treated as a public good, not a private test of a family’s financial strength. Parents around the world should no longer be reduced to hoping for the best, crossing their fingers that the inadequate care they are often forced to use isn’t a risk to their child’s safety or their future prospects in life.

“We need to see a revolution for the early years that brings together governments, businesses, international agencies, parents, frontline workers, civil society, youth campaigners and grassroots groups to improve the lives of the world’s youngest children.”

‘Extremely concerning, but sadly it comes as no surprise’

Neil Leitch, chief executive officer of the Early Years Alliance, said: “The fact that, according to Theirworld’s research, one in four UK parents have had to quit their job or leave education due to soaring early years costs is extremely concerning, but sadly it comes as no surprise.

“If that wasn’t bad enough, Theirworld’s research highlights that the UK fares considerably worse than many other countries, showing both how serious the issue is, and how neglected the sector is when it comes to government support and funding.

“Yet, rather than listen to the sector on how best to solve the early years crisis, the government has instead opted to introduce policies – such as the 30-hours-expansion – that will only serve to further cripple a sector already on its knees.

“It is absolutely vital, therefore, that, as government looks at how it will implement the proposals announced in last month’s Budget, it uses it as an opportunity to work with the sector to ensure it can survive the coming months and years.”