Author Mark Richards

Sports day, speech day and the summer fete are gone. Suddenly the children are on holiday and six very expensive weeks are facing parents. Increasingly, the cost of childcare in the summer holidays is placing a real strain on family finances.

I was talking to my friend Stacey. That is, Stacey was talking – increasingly frantically – and I was listening. “I went to the supermarket,” she said. “Fifty pounds. Just on cheese, ham, cereals. Everything I thought they needed for the week. I came home the next day: they’d eaten it.”

I made appropriately sympathetic noises. I had been there myself. You can have a plague of locusts pass through your kitchen: you can have teenage sons. The end result is the same.

“…And they’ve only just broken up,” Stacey wailed.

There wasn’t much I could say. Three teenage boys multiplied by six weeks of summer holidays. Let’s hope Crunchy Nut Cornflakes are on special offer somewhere…

Stacey is not alone. As the schools break up for the summer holidays parents everywhere are under increasing financial pressure – whether they have teenagers, or whether their children are younger.

The increasing cost of childcare

A Family and Childcare Trust report from 2016 showed that the average cost of childcare in the holidays had risen 4% to £125. As we have written previously, real wages are under pressure as inflation – even after the recent fall to 2.6% – continues to outstrip wage growth. You don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to work out that two children mean childcare costs of £250 per week: that is equivalent to £13,000 a year and means that (after tax and national insurance) earnings approaching £15,000 a year are required just to cover childcare costs for two children.

The Family and Childcare Trust’s 2017 survey has found that the majority of councils in England do not have – or do not even know if they have – enough childcare provision available. With independent and voluntary sector holiday clubs 22% more expensive than those run by the local council it is not hard to see why parents are struggling – and that is before the children need feeding!

Ellen Broome, chief executive of the Trust, said that the average cost of six weeks holiday childcare is £748, which will leave parents,

“On the ropes [and] struggling to keep their heads above water.”

While many parents will be able to call on members of an extended family to help with childcare others will be left with real problems – or having to juggle holidays simply to look after the children.

“Many working parents who cannot call on family or friends may struggle to stay in work,” said the report.

The report went on to say,

“High-quality child care is essential for both families and the economy. As well as enabling parents to work, it gives children the opportunity to take part in positive activities that they might not otherwise access.”

That is fine if parents have the time or the money to arrange ‘high-quality childcare.’ All too often they do not – unless of course, they have the good sense to work for a merchant bank (but then if you work for a merchant bank you are probably not fazed by finding an extra £748…)

Maybe Goldman Sachs have the answer

Maybe Goldman Sachs have the answer to childcare

Walk into Goldman Sachs office in Fleet and you will find a nursery – the only one in London’s Square Mile. It was started in 2003 and takes children from the age of 3 months to 12 years old. Around a quarter of Goldman Sachs’ 5,000 staff use the facility. The firm says it is a “significant cost” – but well worth it as it helps them to retain key staff they might otherwise have lost.

Clearly nurseries – and the regulatory requirements surrounding them – are expensive. It is, therefore, no surprise that (according to figures from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) only 5% of UK businesses offer childcare in the workplace. These include government departments, universities, large organisations such as Microsoft and Toyota and our aforementioned merchant bank.

Interestingly, workplace childcare provision was quite common in the immediate post-war years – when there was a shortage of labour and women were needed in the workforce. But this died away in the 50s as the working week returned to ‘normal,’ pre-war patterns.

The few firms and organisations that do now offer childcare provision have clearly taken a step in the right direction: talented employees are hard to find and retain – Goldman Sachs will no doubt see their nursery as a shrewd investment.

But the vast majority of us do not work for banks, universities or large companies: we work for SMEs that simply cannot afford childcare provision, or in a public sector constantly being told to make savings.

You could always bite the bullet and go on the family holiday: but family holidays are at their most expensive in August. No wonder parents are still tempted to take their children out of school in term time, even if it does mean risking a fine.

Take your children to work

Maybe the answer is to take your children to work with you? Special days for this are popular all over the world – and on the fourth Thursday in April 37m Americans took their children to work in 3.5m workplaces (sadly, I could not find figures for the UK). Whatever the numbers, it is a nice idea – and it may stop the, ‘What do you actually do at the office, Daddy?’ questions – but taking the children into the office is hardly a solution to six weeks in the summer.

However you juggle the summer holidays, the maths simply do not add up. Children typically have 12-13 weeks of school holidays: parents typically have 4-5 weeks of holiday from work. Inevitably many women – and despite men playing a greater part in family life it nearly always is the woman – are forced to take career breaks or give up lucrative careers and work on a freelance basis.

…And it is not just holiday care that is expensive – or the amount of extra breakfast cereal that the children are eating. Tickets for the cinema, theme park, family friendly farms all add up: if you take the children out, it is painfully expensive. But – as every parent knows – nowhere near as painful as being trapped inside with them as the rain beats remorselessly on the window…