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Parents spend up to 65% of wages on childcare fees

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Written by: Rebecca Goodman
07/10/2022
Some parents in England are spending as much as 65% of their wages on nursery fees for children under two, research reveals.

The cost of full-time nursery fees for a child under the age of two is £274 per week on average in England. Yet the average take-home pay of a working adult is £418, which equates to 65% of a parent’s weekly wages going on fees.

For older children, those aged between five and 11, an after school childminder costs an average of £71 a week, or 17% of an average parent’s salary.

For Welsh parents, the average weekly wage was lower at £390 compared to £247 a week to send a child under the age of two to nursery, the equivalent of 63% of one parents wages.

A childminder for a child aged between five and 11 is an average of £73 per week or 19% of weekly average pay.

The figures for Scottish parents were marginally better. The average take-home pay of a working adult is £418 yet nursery costs for a child under two stands at £213, which is half (51%) of a parent’s weekly wages.

Postcode lottery for childcare costs

The data also showed big variations in both average salaries and childcare fees across England.

Norwich, for example, had one of the highest figures when looking at how much a parent spends on childcare. The average weekly salary was £408, yet average full-time nursery costs were £304, 74% of one parent’s weekly take-home pay.

While in Sheffield, the median weekly take-home pay is £404, with full-time nursery costing £242 a week, or 60% of one parent’s weekly take-home pay.

The highest rates were in the East of England and inner London where parents spend an average of 71% of wages on fees for under twos. In the North West of England it was lowest, with around 60% of take-home wages going towards nursery fees.

The research from Business in the Community (BITC), The Prince’s Responsible Business Network, used data from the Coram Family and Childcare survey and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Government childcare reforms slated

It comes as the government is currently planning to publish reforms to the childcare sector, which has seen UK parents paying some of the highest fees in the world for nursery places.

Government support is not available for most families with children until they turn three. There are also huge issues across the childcare sector with many providers struggling to meet rising costs.

Pressure is growing from the public too. A petition against government proposals to reduce ratios of staff to children to cut costs for families has more than 100,000 signatures and will now be debated in parliament.

More than 10,000 people are also expected to join a national protest on 29 October which has been organised by Pregnant Then Screwed to speak out against the current childcare crisis.

Joeli Brearley, CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed, said: “The childcare sector is in a mess. Two-thirds of parents pay the same or more for their childcare as they do their rent or their mortgage, and as this new research shows that’s more than half of one person’s wage per week.

“Meanwhile, due to the government purposefully underfunding childcare subsidies, childcare professionals are paid less than someone flipping burgers in McDonalds. It’s not as if the nursery owners are raking it in either – thousands have closed under the pressure of rising energy and food costs. We need an urgent intervention where the childcare sector is concerned, enough is enough.”

‘Wake-up call’

Katy Neep, gender director at Business in the Community, said: “The percentage of take-home pay spent on childcare should be a wake-up call.

“While most families do receive some financial support from government, everyone’s situation is different, and some parents may have to fork out half their weekly pay just so that they can go to work.

“Childcare costs on top of rising household bills are putting working parents, particularly women in a very difficult position. Many working women are having to decide whether working is even worth it when they look at what’s left in their bank accounts after paying for childcare.”

Women significantly impacted by caring responsibilities

During the Covid pandemic, it was women who were heavily relied upon for caring responsibilities and childcare.

Around six in 10 women (58%) said caring responsibilities, either for children or elderly relations, have stopped them applying for a promotion or a new job, according to BITC research from earlier this year.

One in five women have also left a job because it was too hard to balance work and care and there has been a 5% rise in the number of women staying home instead of going back to work in the last year.

Neep added: “This is a crisis of access and affordability. Employers must look at pay as well as challenging their preconceptions about where, when and how work is done.

“Employers need to transform the way they think about combining paid work and care and ensure that women are not leaving the workplace or passing up a promotion because it is all too hard to balance.”

The data today comes as reports suggest that the Free Market Forum (FMF) has published a blueprint of potential cuts which could be set out by the government. One suggested scrapping free childcare hours, which cost the treasury around £6bn a year.

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