So, you decide to have a family. Great. You are given maternity leave. Great. You are then told you need to go back to work or you decide to continue with your career. Great. You then search for childcare that you can afford. Not so great.
The UK has the most expensive childcare models in the developed world. It costs on average £218 a week for full time care. The cost is every increasing, yet wages don’t keep up. This has forced many parents (particularly women) to reduce their hours at work or leave work altogether.
In Scandinavia, access to childcare for younger children is a formal right. They also have restrictions on the maximum level parents must pay which is set by their Government. Not in the UK though.
The difference between the countries is plain and simple. Public support. Public support for reduced childcare in Sweden, Norway and Denmark is high whereas in the UK it is low. I am a mother and maybe I would say this, but I strongly believe in publicly-provided childcare for everyone. My reasoning is that childcare is an investment. An investment in children no matter where they live, no matter what the socio-economic status of their parents, no matter what their abilities. Good quality childcare has a proven track record of setting children up for the best start in life.
It is disappointing then that Westminster decided to scrap the childcare voucher scheme. Over 450,000 parents use the Childcare voucher scheme. Employees can receive vouchers worth up to £55 per week in lieu of their salary making it very tax efficient. They have had a reprieve though by six months. This is because of the glitches in the HMRC website which has meant people haven’t been able to set up their accounts for the alternative system.
This is just one of many problems that parents are experiencing as they try their best to keep a job while providing the best support for the children.
There is one other issue that we also need to be aware of. How we treat women and mothers. Affordable and accessible childcare allows mothers to take part in or continue to take part in the labour market. After all we are all told to be part of society we must work! Yet the lack of affordable and accessible childcare means mothers often must reduce their hours or leave work altogether.
I would therefore like us all to learn from our Nordic neighbours and treat children and young people as valuable members of our society and continue to improve gender equality for women who want to work.