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A quarter of families struggle to balance work and childcare

By Rachel Lawlerfamily playing childcare funding

More than a quarter of families with children under five (27%) are struggling to balance work and childcare, according to a new survey by the Alliance.

After the Alliance's Freedom of Information investigation into how early years funding rates were set, the government has repeatedly cited its "record investment" into the sector. Children and families minister Vicky Ford has also cited "sufficent" available childcare places as evidence that the current funding rates are working.

In response, the Alliance has asked parents of young children whether or not the policy is working for them and their family's needs.

The Alliance surveyed more than 3,000 parents between July and August 2021 and found that:

  • Parents in deprived areas were 22% more likely to say that they are struggling to access childcare.
  • Four out of five parents (80%) said that the government is not doing enough to help them access affordable, accessible childcare.
  • One in six (17%) parents said difficulties accessing childcare had resulted in poor mental health, with stress and anxiety the most frequent complaints.
  • One in six (16%) reported having to reduce their working hours and single parents were twice as likely to report needing to change jobs or leave work entirely as a result (11% compared to 6% of dual-parent households).
  • A third (36%) of parents said that difficulties accessing childcare had negatively impacted their work life, with nearly half of those (47%) reporting that it had negatively impacted their mental health.

According to the government’s own data, the number of providers on the early years register has fallen drastically over the past 12 months, with a net loss of more than 2,500 settings - equivalent to 4.5% of the overall sector.

Parent struggles
Parents of children who had previously attended a childcare setting that had now permanently closed often found it challenging to secure an alternative, with just one in three (29%) saying it was “easy” to find a new setting.

One parent told the Alliance: “My stress levels are higher due to having to balance work and looking after my son at the same time. I am constantly worried about not meeting my job commitments and deadlines.”

Another said: “There are limited places for babies in my area. The nursery we attend is due to close due to the landlords not renewing the lease – it’s an outstanding nursery. This will be the fifth one to close. I and other parents have had to move three times chasing here and there before work and older children’s drop offs."

"Difficult choices"
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: "This government has repeatedly told the public it is on the side of working families, but cuts to crucial early care and education tell a different story. Early years settings deliver vital learning and development opportunities to young children, but also provide the quality childcare that parents rely on to work, bring in additional income and further their careers.

"With budgets becoming ever tighter in the face of rising costs and stagnant funding, many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders have been forced to make tough decisions about the days, hours, and flexibility they can offer. As our survey shows, this in turn is forcing parents to make their own difficult choices about their working lives. For settings and families in more deprived areas, these challenges are even more acute.

"We have seen the government documents: ministers are fully aware that early years underfunding is driving up childcare costs – and that this is keeping parents, and especially mothers out of the workplace – and yet they continue to insist that all is fine and refuse to even review what is clearly a broken system.

"We urge the government to seize the opportunity of the spending review this autumn to finally show it has the interests of children and families at heart, something it is yet to demonstrate in any meaningful way."

"A decade of underfunding"
Tulip Siddiq, Labour's shadow minister for the early years, commented: “Working parents are under incredible daily pressure as a result of the Government’s failure to deliver affordable childcare for all.

“A decade of underfunding has driven up childcare costs and reduced availability, with nearly 3,000 providers lost since the start of this year alone. As so often is the case under the Conservatives, it is the poorest families who are bearing the brunt of this failure.

“This Conservative Government has been all talk and no action when it comes to supporting parents with childcare. Ministers need to wake up to the huge difficulties facing families and put their needs first as we rebuild after the pandemic.”

Spending review
The Alliance is calling on the government to conduct a full review of early years funding rates and commit to significant investment in the sector at the comprehensive spending review due to take place this autumn.