It’s no secret that childcare can be both complex and expensive for working parents. It’s been estimated that the average family pays out more than £6,000 a year on nurseries and childminders – more than double what they spend on food and drink.
It’s also a subject that’s been hitting the headlines recently due to incoming changes to the Government’s childcare voucher scheme which helps to reduce the cost.
When parents start looking at what’s best for their child, it can be difficult to navigate and understand the options and benefits out there.
At the moment, the childcare voucher scheme is available to any working parents in the UK. It is organised through your employer and it must run the scheme, although not all do. If an employer doesn’t offer the vouchers then experts recommend parents get together as group to try to persuade the managers as it will not cost them any money. Each parent can convert up to £243 per month into vouchers via salary sacrifice and as the money is swapped before tax and national insurance deductions, parents can save up to around £900 per year. But from October it’s due to be closed to new applicants who will instead be able to access tax-free childcare, which has been available since April last year.
Parents have 20 per cent of their childcare costs each year met by the Government, up to a limit of £2,000 a year per child, or £4,000 if your child is disabled. You can’t use both childcare schemes at the same time. But if you have children aged three or four you can use the initiatives alongside 15 or 30 hours of free childcare.
All children in England get 570 free hours per year. It’s usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, but parents can choose to take fewer hours over more weeks. Some two-year-olds are also eligible for 15 hours free childcare, if you get certain benefits. You may also be entitled to 30 hours free childcare or 1,140 hours per year, which you can choose how you take. It’s usually available if you and your partner are in work and each earning at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week.
Although help is available childcare can also sometimes be a barrier for mothers who want to go back to their jobs but don’t feel they have an option that is affordable. New research by Save the Children estimates there are over 109,000 stay-at-home mums in the West Midlands who would prefer to work if they could find a way for their children to be looked after that was convenient, reliable and didn’t break the bank.
The charity has previously found that childcare issues are costing mothers in England £3.4 million in lost earnings each day and it says recent evidence has shown that childcare costs are rising at twice the rate of inflation.
At the same time, almost half of parents say they have no idea or are confused about what childcare support they should even be getting.
Steven McIntosh, Save the Children’s director of UK poverty policy, said: “We know that families with pre-school children are hardest hit. The cost and complexity leave them stressed and struggling to make ends meet at the most important time in their children’s lives.”
Other options to help keep the costs down include signing up to a nanny share with other parents. Although the cost per hour will be higher than a nursery, there are savings to be had when there are more than one child. Most nannies will charge by the hour and the cost does not go up for additional children.
For new parents, shared parental leave may be the way to go to have some flexibility in a child’s first year. Up to 50 weeks of leave – 37 weeks of which is paid – can be shared by parents if they meet certain eligibility criteria. Parents can take leave in their child’s first year at different times, or double up by taking leave at the same time.
When considering nurseries and childminder, experts recommend considering how many hours a day and at what times you will need childcare throughout the week so you can budget. Research the different providers ensuring to check Ofsted reports and draw up a short-list. Visiting them in person is highly recommended as this will allow you to check the environment and that it’s safe and clean. You will hopefully see trained and experienced staff, ready to learn and respond to your child’s individual needs as well as busy, but relaxed, youngsters who seem happy and purposeful.
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions to get a feel for the place, the staff and the daily routine. Find out about safety procedures and anything else that will put your mind at ease if you have any concerns.
Childcare providers will normally be happy to find references and it will be reassuring to get the views of other parents. It goes without saying that finding quality childcare will be one of the most important decisions as a parent so taking the time to find the perfect option for you will be worth it.
The work life balance: how to juggle your job with raising a family
Juggling life as a working parent can be tricky and sometimes leave you feeling like you’re not spending any quality time with your family. Here are 10 tips for coping and finding a better balance that suits you all:
Separate work from your home life. However much you’re tempted don’t check your business emails or take calls from the office when you’re at home. Make sure that when you walk through the front door, you’ve left work behind. Switching off completely will allow you dedicate yourself fully to your family and you’ll feel better for setting this boundary.
Make one evening your special night as a family. Dedicate one night of the week to ‘family night’. Choose a favourite activity like watching a movie or playing games. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you make sure you spend the whole evening together and the children aren’t in their rooms while you’re downstairs.
Sit down to eat with your children. Chatting over tea will give you a chance to talk about each other’s day. It’s long been considered a good way for families to share and bond. Having this time together will make you feel more connected.
Don’t feel guilty. Whenever you’re feeling guilty for missing something, put it into context. You can’t be everywhere all of the time. Remember that by working you’re supporting your family in a different way so feel proud of what you’re doing.
Accept help wherever you can get it. Whether it’s friends or family offering to lend a hand, don’t feel bad saying ‘yes’. If your parents are offering to give the children their tea once a week then look at it as a special treat for both. They will enjoy spending the time together.
Use your time wisely. If you can, leave activities like doing the washing or making phone calls until after the children are in bed. This will mean you will not feel like you’re wasting valuable time with your family doing chores.
Buy a family calendar. It can be really difficult keeping up with everything going on in the family so getting organised will help you see where you need to prioritise your time. It will help you to keep on top of upcoming events and plan things in advance.
Talk to your boss. If you’re still finding it hard, then find out if you can making changes to your working hours. It may be that you can start earlier without impacting your family’s morning routine giving you an extra hour in the evening. It may not seem ideal but if it’s going to make you happier and less stressed it will be worth having the conversation.
Take the stress out of mornings. From the moment the alarm clock goes off, it can seem like a constant rush to get out of the door. Get everything you will need to make your mornings run smoother done the night before – pack the lunches and pick out your clothes. It will only take a few minutes and will make the world of difference.
Remember it gets easier. You will find it less of a juggling act when your children are older than when they are infants. When they are older they can have a bit more responsibility and help with the day-to-day chores reducing the daily workload and freeing up time to spend together.