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My childless friends are always shocked at how much nursery costs. On average, London parents with two kids fork out half the income left after tax and accommodation on childcare. For many, that’s more than their mortgage or rent. And this is in London.
That’s if you can even get your kid in. Only 57 per cent of councils in England have enough childcare for parents working full time. Some London mothers-to-be join nursery waiting lists before their 12-week scans. And while working full time rarely means nine to five these days, full-time nursery is mostly 8am to 6pm – at best. Fail to clock out on time or get stuck in traffic and the late-fee meter starts ticking.
Scandinavia nails it, of course. There, subsidised childcare has increased female employment and help produce GDP growth of 10 to 20 per cent over the past 50 years. In France, it’s culturally acceptable and, crucially, affordable for mothers to put their kids in childcare even if they don’t work.
As of 2017, UK parents receive 30 free hours of childcare a week, but only for three-year-olds and up, and for 38 weeks a year. (Huh?) The figures don’t stack up. Government funding isn’t enough to cover the costs, which nurseries have passed on in increased fees. And statutory maternity leave only lasts a year.
Women bear the true cost of childcare. If it was as accessible here as in Scandinavia, 1.5m more would be working full time. Not that caring for children isn’t work. I can’t be the only parent for whom Monday morning comes as a welcome break. It’s nigh-on impossible to do anything else while looking after kids. Then you get a phone call saying that they’re ill or there’s a heatwave and you have to drop everything and collect them.
I’m fortunate that, as a freelancer, I can be flexible. But I still have deadlines to meet. I also live five minutes’ walk away from nursery, and work around the corner, so my commute and nursery run are negligible. I don’t know how other working parents do it. Even without little emergencies, the daily pick-up and drop-off are freighted with stress and guilt.
Childcare is less of an all-consuming concern if you work at organisations such as Google or Goldman Sachs, which offer it in-house. Or in the Houses of Parliament, where the nursery is open late. Maybe that’s why childcare isn’t on the political agenda.
In June, London mayor Sadiq Khan officially opened a nursery at my workspace, Second Home in London Fields, which is run by a start-up called N Family Club that also operates locations in Stoke Newington, West Hampstead and Brixton. The sniffy press coverage focused on the Scandi design, cultural programme and smoothies, plus the price: £90 a day for under-threes, which is fairly standard for London. Both overlooked the key features: extended opening hours of 7am to 7pm, for a relatively modest extra charge, and sheer proximity. They’re the real luxuries.