From Cradles to Costs: The Balancing Act of Childcare

You Can’t Put a Price On Parenthood…Or Can You?


Embarking on the journey of parenthood brings forth a wealth of trials, triumphs and tender moments. From letting your child win hide and seek every single time, to gently persuading them that Spiderman costumes are for playtime, not for their older sister’s school play, the time spent between parents and their children in their formative years is invaluable and will be cherished forever.

Yet, there inevitably arrives a moment where parents must confront the weighty decision of whether they will return to the workforce. This decision has always been one of complexity. Parents are forced to navigate the delicate balance between the necessity of financial stability and intellectual stimulation, with the longing to actively participate in their child’s early childhood. However, in more recent years, looming over this deliberation is another crucial factor: the eyewatering cost of childcare. From nurseries, to daycare centres, to nannies to au pairs, parents have a range of childcare options to choose from. But they all come with a hefty price tag…

Striking a Balance Between Finances and Family Harmony


Nursery fees, in particular, can be staggering, rivalling or even surpassing the cost of rent or mortgage payments in some regions. For many parents, the prospect of spending the majority of their hard-earned salary on these fees can make the idea of returning to work seem not only daunting, but financially unfeasible.

In an article for The Times, a mother of two vents her frustration at the exorbitant cost of childcare. She reveals that she shells out nearly £4,000 a month to enrol her two children in nursery, amounting to a staggering equivalent of a £66,000 annual salary. A £70,000 salary is widely esteemed, often attained by professionals like Software Developers, Marketing Managers, Executive Assistants and Personal Assistants. Yet, when this income scarcely covers the expenses of sending two children to nursery, the question arises: how much does one have to earn to justify going back to work?

While it is undoubtably challenging to watch your income vanish into the void of childcare expenses, many would consider these professionals fortunate compared to others, belonging to double-income households and earning substantial salaries.

So what does this mean for single parents or those receiving lower incomes? For them, staying financially afloat amidst such exorbitant childcare costs seems nothing short of impossible.

In professions like EAs, PAs and Private PAs, individuals already devote significant hours to their careers. However, the added pressure to attain financial stability could result in even more time in the office, consequently sacrificing in precious time spent with their children. This strain on familial bonds can foster feelings of guilt and remorse leaving parents trapped in an unwinnable scenario. This reality poses a significant challenge to achieving a balance between work and family life, with implications not only for individual households but for the broader economy too.


How Soaring Childcare Costs Impact the Economy

The economic consequences of high childcare costs extends far beyond individual households. As these costs continue to soar (with research from OECD highlighting that the UK has the second most expensive childcare system in the world, having increased by 27% since 2009), the implications reverberate throughout the economy.

Extensive childcare costs can act as a barrier to workforce participation. For parents, especially mothers, when faced with the daunting choice between covering expensive childcare costs and leaving the workforce to care for their children, many opt for the latter. As a result, a large portion of skilled and talented individuals are sidelined from contributing to the economy and paying tax, significantly impacting economic growth.

Furthermore, the loss of talented and experienced workers from the workforce exacerbates the issue of ‘brain drain’ in the UK. These individuals possess valuable skills, knowledge, and expertise that the country is losing out on, leading to a depletion of talent and expertise within various sectors. This undermines the UK’s ability to remain competitive in a globalized economy driven by its talent.


Furthermore, the extortionate costs of childcare perpetuates gender inequalities in the workplace as women are disproportionately impacted by the childcare burden and often end up shouldering the majority of caregiving responsibilities. As a result, women are more likely than men to experience career interruptions or work reduced hours, leading to diminished earnings over their lifetimes. For example, if an Executive Assistant decides to pause her career to care for her children, re-entering the workforce in the same capacity might pose challenges. Many employers prefer continuous employment records, making it daunting for individuals who have taken career breaks of 5+ years to reintegrate into their former roles.

According to a survey by the British Cambers of Commerce, two thirds of women in the UK would say that childcare duties have affected their career progression. In addition, a study by UCL has found that women earn almost half (45%) of what their salary would have been without having children in the first six years after giving birth. These findings underscore the urgent need for comprehensive policies and support systems that address the systemic barriers faced by working parents, particularly women, in balancing caregiving responsibilities with career aspirations.

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Solving the Childcare Conundrum

1/ Subsidised Childcare Programs

Government funded childcare subsidies can significantly alleviate the financial burden on families, particularly low-income households. Currently, the UK government is offering 15 free hours of childcare per week for parents of two year olds earning less than 100k. However, many individuals are finding that these measures are not sufficient and even entail confusing conditions. For example, in scenarios where one household member earns £40k and one earns £100k, they are not eligible for assistance. Yet if both individuals earn 99k then they meet the eligibility criteria. Therefore, whilst means-tested subsidies are important to ensure that those who most need support do receive it, it is also essential to prevent households from shouldering the burden of exorbitant nursery fees that can reach as high as £4000 a month.

2/ Flexible Working Conditions

Companies can promote flexible working arrangements such as the option to work from home, flexible hours, or compressed work weeks to accommodate the needs of working parents. According to research by Now Pensions, 74% of participants agreed that the least an employer can do to support mothers returning to work is to offer more flexible hours. Options for flexible working enables parents to balance their caregiving and working responsibilities more effectively, reducing the need for costly childcare arrangements.

3/ Paid Parental Leave Policies

Paid parental leave policies can provide financial support to parents, especially mothers, to take time off work to care for their children without sacrificing their income. By providing employees with the financial support they need during significant life events like birth or adoption of a child, organisations demonstrate their commitment to employee well-being. This fosters loyalty, reduces turnover and attracts top talent. Thankfully, these policies are improving among many companies, with a survey of 700 UK employers conducted by childcare provider, Bright Horizons, finding that 48% of employers currently offer enhanced shared parental leave, up from 25% in 2017. In addition, companies are increasingly offering gender-blind parent leave, with popular ecommerce company, Etsy, offering 26 weeks gender-blind paid leave to be used in the first two years after their baby is born.

4/ Workplace Childcare Facilities

Employers can provide on-site childcare facilities or partner with childcare providers to offer services to their employees. For example, HSBC offers nursery places and childcare vouchers to its employees, while Goldman Sachs offers an on-site creche for children from 3 months to 11 years old. Furthermore, fashion retailer ‘Next’ has an on-site nursery called ‘Next Steps Nursery’ that currently holds an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating.
While these solutions and policies are a step in the right direction to combating soaring childcare costs, it is still far from satisfactory. It is crucial to maintain an ongoing dialogue about the impact of childcare expenses on families, the economy, and gender inequalities. By continuing to advocate for change, the UK can build a future where no parent is forced to choose between the financial stability and wellbeing of their children, and where every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Knightsbridge Recruitment is a boutique consultancy which has been placing stand-out candidates in the most sought after permanent, temporary and part-time Executive Assistant, Personal Assistant, Private PA and executive office support jobs in London, for over 35 years.  If you would like advice on hiring and retaining exceptional staff, we would love to help - please call us.
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