The cost of childcare is forcing one in four UK parents to give up their job or drop out of education, according to a new study.
More than 7,000 parents and carers from the UK, Brazil, India, Netherlands, Nigeria, Turkey and the US with children under the age of seven were questioned for global children’s charity Theirworld.
The research found 23% of UK-based parents had either quit work or dropped out of their studies to avoid childcare costs, compared with 17% of their counterparts in Brazil, 16% in Turkey and 13% in Nigeria.
Some 74% of parents in the UK said they find it difficult to meet childcare costs, compared with 52% in India, 57% in the Netherlands, 59% in Nigeria, 68% in the US and Brazil, and 72% in Turkey.
Theirworld chairwoman Sarah Brown, who is married to former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, is calling on governments to urgently prioritise spending on the early years.
The survey has “laid bare the scale of the global early years crisis and its impact on children in rich and poor countries alike” and change is needed because “early years childcare is as essential to a country’s infrastructure as roads, hospitals and telecommunications,” she said.
Around 65% of UK parents questioned said they have had to make major financial changes, including taking on more work and spending less on food, in order to afford childcare.
Some 22% said they spend between 30% and 70% of their income on childcare.
Theirworld said children from wealthier and educated backgrounds tend to begin primary school ready to learn, but there are nearly 250 million children in low- and middle-income countries who are at risk of not reaching their full development potential due to poverty, inadequate nutrition, exposure to stress, and a lack of early stimulation and learning.
The charity noted that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt made childcare a central part of his Budget, providing an extra £4bn over three years.
He also announced that in all eligible households in England every child under five will receive 30 hours a week of free childcare from the moment maternity leave ends.
However, critics have pointed out that this will not be in place until September 2025.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee last month, denied that the childcare system is in crisis.
He said: “I think that announcements in the Budget were warmly welcomed by the childcare sector for what they’re going to do, which is to increase the funding for childcare as it is now, but also expand the provision to cover some of the gaps in the existing system and move us into a internationally quite generous position relative to our peers on childcare.”
Elvira Grob, 41, who is a lecturer in design on a zero-hours contract, has been left feeling “close to burnout” as she and her partner Michael spend £975 a month on childcare for their 10-month-old daughter, Yoomi.
The London-based couple do not want to give up their daughter’s place at nursery to save money because she “loves it there” and it is good for her development.
Ms Grob, who is also retraining and studying for a degree, returned to work two days a week when Yoomi was six months old.
She said: “I work in the evenings, I work when Yoomi sleeps, and I work at weekends.
“My income covers Yoomi’s childcare but I have rent to pay, and I also have to pay for my studies. It’s got to a point where I’m considering dropping my degree to help us pay our bills.”
Mrs Brown added: “For a child, the first five to six years are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but this is being squandered on a global scale.
“Providing for children in their early years must be treated as a public good, not a private test of a family’s financial strength.
“Parents around the world should no longer be reduced to hoping for the best, crossing their fingers that the inadequate care they are often forced to use isn’t a risk to their child’s safety or their future prospects in life.
“We need to see a revolution for the early years that brings together governments, businesses, international agencies, parents, frontline workers, civil society, youth campaigners and grassroots groups to improve the lives of the world’s youngest children.”
A total of 7,226 parents or childcare professionals took part in the survey carried out for Theirworld by Hall & Partners.
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