Childcare: Does the UK Need to Do Better?

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does UK need better childcare policies
Photo Credits: Vitolda Klein via Unsplash

Childcare support for working parents is crucial now, more than ever, in the UK. This is why the UK government has announced that they will offer 30 hours of free childcare per week for eligible working parents. Not only that, while the offer first started for parents with kids aged 3 to 4 years, it has now expanded to include parents with kids as young as nine months. Now, parents with kids aged nine months to three years can claim free childcare.

However, the offer does not roll out all at once, but in stages. The first stage will be from April 2024 when eligible parents of two-year-olds can access 15 hours of free childcare. Thereafter, 15 hours can be claimed by parents with nine-month-old to three-year-old kids from September 2024. The full 30 hours will only be accessible by September 2025.

This plan is similar to childcare policies in other countries such as Denmark, Lithuania and Norway, where such claims are already accessible to working parents. However, this is not the only thing other countries offer in terms of childcare.

Childcare Policies Around the World

It is worth noting that while childcare costs depend on multiple factors like location, age and facilities, it is well known that the cost of nurseries in the UK is higher than in other countries like Germany, France, Spain etc.

In the UK, the cost of a nursery can be anything between £500-£600 per month. However, the prices for childcare range from €70 to €150 per child a month in Germany. In addition, in countries like Germany and France, the government offers childcare allowance and pays the full cost of childcare once the child is three.

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Children in Estonia have it even better because after 18 months they have a guaranteed place in the nursery at any public kindergarten. Currently, in Japan, around ¥15,000 is paid for every child by the government until they reach the age of three. After three, the childcare allowance changes to ¥10,000 till the child graduates from junior high school. Additionally, a new payout of ¥100,000 was briefly introduced for newborns.

Beyond childcare and allowances, the UK has quite a bit to do even in terms of leave entitlement. Paternity leave entitlement in the UK is about 1 or 2 weeks, which is significantly lesser when compared to Japan where 12 months are offered to new fathers. As a matter of fact, the UK 39-week paid maternity leave is only the 3rd longest leave entitlement, with Bulgaria and Croatia having the longest leave entitlement at 58 weeks minimum.

Is the UK Falling Behind?

According to a PWC report, the UK has the third largest increase in the gender pay gap. Plus, in 2021, the unemployment rate for women increased from 4.2% to 4.3%. A major factor behind the widening gap has been the “motherhood penalty” which is the loss in earnings due to women raising children.

Unfortunately, this remains to be a stubborn factor because the role of caregiving is primarily assigned to mothers.  In a recent report published by the TUC, it is revealed that the average employed woman works for free for 2 months in the year. The PWC report states that women spend almost 8 hours more than men when caring for children, and label this as their “second shift”.

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The List Remains Empty

Because the role of caregiving has been assigned to women, it is leading to women reducing their working hours or even leaving their job. Research shows that mothers tend to leave employment after the birth of their first child, and then either never return, or shift to part-time work. Unfortunately, this research also reveals that even if a woman has more experience than a man, her part-time wages will not change.

Additionally, the “second shift” at home can often have a detrimental effect on productivity at the workplace which, inadvertently, affect the chances of progression.

The UK needs to improve their childcare and parental leave policies not only to place more emphasis on better childcare and the well-being of children but to help close the gender pay gap. It is imperative now more than ever, because of the discrimination new mothers tend to face at work.

Final Thoughts

Extending parental leave, especially paternity leave, would be a great starting point. It is about time that the responsibility of childcare does not fall on just the women. Moreover, the extension in paid leave would make it easier to focus on childcare, without the need to juggle work and personal life.

It is also crucial for the UK government to consider offering more support such as allowances per family, like in Japan. This will help self-employed parents the most, while also benefitting all other working parents during the cost-of-living crises.

In a nutshell, the UK has a lot to offer working parents, but it clearly needs to do more to create an environment without second shifts, motherhood penalties and guilt-free childcare.

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