It’s no surprise that children are expensive – in January 2012 within the total cost of raising a child until their 21st birthday of £218,000, childcare struck a whopping £63,099. This week a report by Conservative MP Elizabeth Truss shone a spotlight on this. The UK has the second highest costs of childcare in Europe – 26.6% of average family incomes, or 40.9% of the average UK wage.
Truss sees the solution in simplified regulation – freeing up workers to care for more children at the same time. Under current rules there has to be one carer for three children aged five or younger – Truss wants a ratio of 1:5. She argues that the limited ratio limits the income of childcarers (an average £11,000 a year) lowering quality and pushing up prices.
Cheif executive of the Daycare Trust Anand Shulka argued that changing the ratio would increase childcarer salaries, so do little to help parents with the cost. In reality salaries probably won’t increase but the profits of private childcare companies will. More worryingly the changed ratio would inevitably reduce the quality of childcare and the amount of engagement and interaction children receive.
The Department for Education says its solution is to invest in free early education – it is true that the UK has a higher than average national spend on early years childcare (1.1% of GDP). But this is more than countered by cuts to maternity grants and child benefits and closures of Sure Start centres and after-school clubs. In theory the Coalition guarantee 15 hours per week free childcare, but this has been badly hit by local authority spending cuts.
More and more parents won’t be wondering about the quality of childcare, but whether they can use it at all. 24% of mothers have already left work, and 16% reduced their hours, because childcare costs more than they earn. Over a third of UK parents already rely on ‘informal’ childcare arrangements – grandparents and other relatives. Social isolation and loss of independence are inevitable as women of all generations bear the burden of childcare cuts and spiraling costs.