Falling down: the real burden of childcare

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer, Working Families

Earlier today the Resolution Foundation think tank published its annual audit of living standards in Britain.  The Financial Times described the 62-page report and its 38 graphs as “a brightly coloured chartfest of post-recession misery”.  And, for sure, the report offers little to cheer about.  But there is one graph that left my jaw on the floor.

After noting that “certain price rises directly erode work incentives”, the report drops the bombshell that “many second earners, overwhelmingly women, barely benefit from going to work.”  If a typical second earner in a middle-income household with two young children takes a full-time job pay £24,000 a year, then after childcare costs, direct taxes and reduced benefits and tax credits,  she “takes home just £1,700 of that salary”.

That is equivalent to being paid just 83 pence per hour (for a 40-hour week).  And if that doesn’t blow your policy wonk mind, just take a look at the graph that the Resolution Foundation came up with to ram home this point.

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As the Guardian journalist Zoe Williams noted on Twitter, the graph “even looks like a person falling over under unbearable weight”.

So, is £1,700 per year – or £33 per week – really worth the time, effort and anxiety involved in getting the children from home to their childcare provider, and then oneself to work?  And then repeating the exercise, in reverse, at the end of the day?  Five days a week?

No wonder, then, that whilst there are 5.8 million mothers with dependent children in employment  (Labour Force Survey), the UK “lags internationally when it comes to the employment rates of women with young children and particularly single mothers”.  Yet – in the words of the business secretary, Vince Cable – the UK “cannot deal with the economic challenges we face without properly using the talents of women in the workplace”.

Which means government really does have to get to grips with the ‘childcare crunch’ in the Resolution Foundation’s graph.

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