Childcare is a subject we discuss every day at the Family and Childcare Trust. More often than not it will be in reference to our campaign to make quality childcare more affordable and accessible for parents. On other occasions we talk about it because many of our own staff are parents, grandparents or carers, and our ability to be present in the office often depends on childcare.
Not all parents work for a charity that campaigns on behalf of families, and in particular, one that understands how childcare and working life are interlinked. For many parents, childcare costs are so prohibitive, they struggle to make work pay. Our annual childcare costs survey this year revealed that part-time childcare for a family with two children is now more expensive than the average mortgage payment in the UK.
It’s not just the cost of childcare that affects people’s ability to pursue their career aspirations. In the same survey, we found that just under half of local authorities in Britain have sufficient childcare for working parents, and only 13 per cent have enough childcare for parents who work atypical hours. Even for those working normal office hours, opening hours in childcare settings can be quite inflexible. And, as families need to move to where the work is, informal childcare, such as help from grandparents, is not available to many parents.
With the new childcare voucher system being introduced from 2015, working parents will be entitled to up to £2,000 in financial support every year for each child through an online account, so employers’ childcare voucher schemes will eventually be wound down. Despite this staff benefit being removed from the remit of employers, there is still a lot businesses can do to help parents juggle childcare needs and working life.
At Family and Childcare Trust, 15 of our team of 25 people work either part-time hours, job share, or have other formal flexible working arrangements, and flexibility is available to all staff as long as we are able to respond to our supporters and fulfil our charitable objectives. I manage my own role on a flexible basis so that I am able to share childcare drop-off and collection responsibilities with my partner. I think it is important to lead by example, and enable the conversation about childcare and about flexible working to take place, at all levels within an organisation, even if we can’t meet all requests. It is also important that dads are part of this conversation.
The workplace is changing to respond to the needs of customers, with technology and initiatives such as shared parental leave and the right for all staff to request flexible working, helping to shift culture in a direction that will help both mums and dads to achieve a better work-life balance. Businesses could learn a lot by having the conversation about childcare with their employees, as after all, businesses rely on childcare just as much as parents do.
Anand Shukla is the Chief Executive of Family and Childcare Trust and is recognised as one of the leading authorities on childcare and family policy in the UK. He advises government in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Anand has led numerous campaigns, research and publications and has been credited with ensuring the high profile of childcare and family-friendly working as an issue with governments, employers and local authorities throughout the UK.