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Angela Kunawicz 8th March 2023

“Having children is now seen as a personal choice, a luxury, like buying a Porsche. You shouldn’t get one unless you can afford to maintain it.”

LIKE it or not, that provocative comment forms part of a fierce debate about the UK’s exorbitant childcare costs and an equally unfair ‘motherhood penalty’. And with a slumping economy and the second most expensive childcare costs in the world, it’s easy to see why many women believe it’s too costly to start a family. Blueberry marks this year’s International Women’s Day (#IWD) by discussing the challenges working mothers face to maintain their career and find reasonably priced childcare.

What’s the point of working to pay someone else to look after my children?

Three out of four mothers paying for childcare say it no longer makes financial sense for them to work, according to a new report commissioned by Pregnant Then Screwed. It’s no wonder when the average cost of full-time nursery in the UK for a child under two stands at more than £14,000 a year.

“This is our ultimate cry for help. Parents are at the end of their tether. Many have now left the labour market, or work fewer hours, because our childcare system has been abandoned by this Government,” said the charity’s founder, Joeli Brearley. “We don’t just have a cost-of-living crisis in the UK, we have a cost of working crisis with one in ten mothers now paying to go to work.”

The group, which protects, supports, and promotes the rights of pregnant women and mothers, joined Saatchi & Saatchi this month to highlight their concerns with the ‘A Cry for Help’ campaign. The movement played a baby’s cry - a sound the human brain is hardwired to respond to - from billboards, across social media and Spotify.

“We are haemorrhaging talented, skilled women from [the workforce] because of our unaffordable, dysfunctional, inaccessible childcare system.”
Joelie Brearley Founder & CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed

“This isn’t just a parenting issue, this is an issue for the whole of society,” she added. “We are haemorrhaging talented, skilled women from our healthcare sector, from teaching and other vital public services because of our unaffordable, dysfunctional, inaccessible childcare system. Unless we want to lock parents out of the labour market entirely then we need investment, and we need it now.”

- A staggering 98% of women using childcare argue that the Government is not doing enough to support parents with children.

- 1 in 4 parents (26%) say childcare costs equate to more than 75% of their take home pay.

- 4 in 10 parents (45%) who use childcare must choose between paying for childcare and household essentials.

Data analysis was powered by Women in Data®, which surveyed more than 24,000 parents for the Pregnant Then Screwed report.

Can I even afford to have children?

Speaking about family policy at a recent Westminster think tank event for under 35s, South Yorkshire MP Miriam Cates urged the Government to do more to help with the cost of having and raising children. She argued that our individualised tax system – taxing the individual not the household – actively discouraged people from having children and did not support stable couple relationships.

“When young couples do the maths and look at the costs they would face if they had a child, it just doesn’t add up,” said the mother-of three. “In fact, a report last year showed that around 50 per cent of young people don’t feel they can afford to have children. The problem is not just fiscal, it’s philosophical. Over the last few generations, we have privatised family life. Having children is now seen as a personal choice, a luxury, like buying a Porsche. You shouldn’t get one unless you can afford to maintain it.”

What needs to change?

On top of costly childcare fees, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said parents were also being crippled by the cost-of-living and stagnated salaries. Women in Data® findings shows that one in three (32 per cent) of parents go into debt to cover childcare costs.

“New mums are caught in a catch 22,” said TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady. “The UK’s miserly rate of statutory maternity pay means many are under financial pressure to return to work early and are then at the mercy of sky-high childcare fees. We urgently need to get wages rising to stop households drowning in bills.”

And while the masses are aware of the gender pay gap – latest UK figures show the mean hourly difference between men and women is £1.44 – what about the ‘motherhood penalty’? Sadly, the pay gap between mothers and women without children is even wider than the pay gap between men and women without children. Sociologists refer to this pay gap as the motherhood penalty.

Can women really have it all?

Led by Leeds Beckett University, the #WECAN (Women Empowered through Coaching and Networking) project offers bespoke support to the region’s SMEs and their women employees. Linda Jones, #WECAN Coachee, said it was possible for women to “have it all” if they had a strong family support network, a supportive boss, and an enhanced HR policy at work.

“Only 28 per cent of managerial positions are held by women. These stats were the same back in 1995! It’s disappointing to see we’re no better off today with only one in four managers being women.”
Linda Jones #WECAN Coachee

“Only 28 per cent of managerial positions are held by women,” said the MD of Talk Direct Leeds. “These stats were the same back in 1995! It’s disappointing to see we’re no better off today with only one in four managers being women.” The mother-of-two added: “It’s extremely important for your boss to understand how difficult it can be to juggle home and work life. I’ve seen a lot of managers govern their staff from a position of power and fear – creating stress, pressure and causing anxiety.

The best bosses lead with their personal power. They understand you as an individual and help you develop your capabilities whilst navigating any challenges you may face at work or at home. You should feel comfortable approaching your manager with anything that concerns you and not be scared to speak up.”

Enough is enough – it’s time for change!

The Government provides parents in England with 30 hours of free childcare, across 38 weeks once their child turns three. By lowering the age and extending the free childcare to 52 weeks, parents would find it much easier to return to work.

Society should not penalise women (let’s be honest most caregivers are women) for taking time off from a well-earned career to have and raise their children. Nor should they be priced out of returning to the workplace by prohibitive childcare costs. We need universally high quality, accessible, cost-effective childcare that runs from the end of maternity leave to the end of primary school. Women would have the choice to return to work earlier. And while they may still suffer from ‘mum guilt’ (it’s never-ending), they wouldn’t face such financial hardships. Plus, they would be safe in the knowledge that their children were receiving quality childcare and early years education.

Check out Blog: Confessions of a Pregnant Blueberry Director and Five Steps to Support Pregnant Employees. And if you feel passionate about this topic, share, comment and like this blog.

[Copyright © 2023 Angela Kunawicz & Blueberry Marketing Solutions. All rights reserved.]

Written By Angela Kunawicz
Angela is an award winning journalist, videographer and marketeer who has worked in regional and international media outlets across the UK and Middle East, including the BBC and Abu Dhabi Media Company. With a flair for human interest stories, hard news and campaigns, she has also been commended for her outstanding photography and video productions.

Also written by Angela