So yes, cheaper childcare alternatives are available. But to make our elaborate juggling trick work, we need one that offers full days (8am to 6pm) and is near enough to our local Tube station for us to get to the office and do a day’s work in between drop-off and pick-up.
When the costs are broken down, it doesn’t seem expensive. I calculate that our monthly bill boils down to just £9.80 an hour – a pittance to pay for someone else to do the exhausting job of entertaining, feeding and soothing my lovely but demanding tiny human.
On an hourly basis, I pay more for my haircuts, my cleaner and just about all jobs that I outsource to people who do them much better than I could. But the overall monthly bill – which comes out of a post-tax pot that also needs to pay for the roof over our head, the food on our table and the nappies on our baby’s delightful bottom – is huge.
It is little wonder that parents make the decision for one of them to quit work – and it is usually the mother. This is not “the Great Resignation” so much as it is “the Great She-signation”. This has huge knock-on effects for those women’s career opportunities, salaries, pensions and ultimately the financial health of their children and the whole family. Women, particularly mothers, have already borne the economic brunt of the pandemic.
This is yet another burden on middle- class families who are feeling the squeeze as living costs soar. The salary limits at which parents lose access to financial support such as tax-free childcare and child benefit have failed to rise with inflation, leaving thousands of families to grapple with higher bills.
If the Government is keen to boost the economy, stem rising vacancies and get people back into offices, it must address the astronomical cost of childcare.
It won’t solve the productivity puzzle while it costs £1,700 a month just to go to work.