I've been thinking (again) about working and not-working and being a full-time mum and being a part-time employee and all that sort of stuff.
But two things in particular have made me put fingers to keyboard this time. First is Muddling along Mummy's post here - she's wondering why, still, in 2010, the majority of childcare is still done by mothers.
And the other is an article in today's Observer (which weirdly doesn't seem to feature in their online edition) about the costs of childcare. Apparently more than half of all children's centres are making a financial loss*; 58% of parents have suffered from a lack of childcare in the past 12 months, and local authorities' own assessments of available childcare show a shortage. They interview a woman who gave up work because after childcare she was earning £20 a week...
How does this happen when we're being told that every effort is being made to encourage parents back into work? (Let's ignore the childcare voucher issue for a moment shall we? And the fact that there is no state childcare for children under 3 anyway). It is surely a simple calculation. If the government wants women to return to work, it has to make it possible, both practically and financially.
For us it's a financial and not a practical question. There are plenty of (private) nurseries around us. But here's the maths:
I am in a well-paid industry and am relatively senior. By national terms, I am extremely well paid, although not stratospherically. Given that I am now only working two days a week, it's helpful to think in daily amounts.
After tax and National Insurance, I earn almost exactly £180 a day.
That's quite a lot right?
Nope. I pay just over £160 a day in childcare.
If I work eight hours a day (which I don't, I work more than that). I'm earning £2.50 an hour. That's right. If I go to Pret for lunch and buy a sandwich and a drink, that's two hours wages. If I ladder my tights and go and buy a new pair, that's an hour. If I have to top up my Oyster card, that's a week's worth...
And the thing is, that for where we live (Central-ish London) our nursery fees are pretty average. Admittedly we're unusual in that we have three children under school age, but then we're also better paid than many. What if I were a nurse? Or a teacher? Bear in mind that the nursery discount our fees - we should be paying over £200 a day. And a nanny wouldn't be any cheaper. When I interviewed nannies, they all wanted over £10 an hour plus tax and national insurance. That works out at £140 a day, to which you have to add heat, light, food and activities. They could easily add up to more than £20 a day, so you're back to square one. Indeed, that's one of the reasons we went for the nursery - we could be certain of costs. Plus the nursery takes the (soon to be late-lamented) childcare vouchers. Nannies can, but the sort who do tend to be the more expensive....
I spoke to a lovely colleague of mine about this, and her solution? Don't do the maths. And in many ways she was right. Because this is so demoralising. If I have a bad day at work, or a difficult call with a client, or get caught up in some political shenanigans, I realise that I don't care. Where once I would have made an effort, got involved, tried to solve things, now I don't. It's very hard to care about a job, no matter how much you love it or how long you have trained for it, if you are effectively not being paid for the work you do.
Maybe I am wrong to be so hung up on the money, but that is how our employers have taught us how to value ourselves: you're good at your job, you get paid more. So what does that make me?
For the moment though I'm sticking with it. The promise of freelance work, to keep my brain ticking over and my professional qualifications up-to-date when we move, is too good to turn down. But it doesn't stop me being angry. I know there's no easy solution to this one, but I just wish I could be convinced that someone was actually thinking about it, for all they all talk a good talk...
*We experienced this ourselves. The nursery L went to when I first went back to work after having her went bust (fortunately just as I went on maternity leave to have A&S so we were ok). They owed us £800 which I have now been told we won't get back. The total debts were, rumour has it, in excess of £7 million. Even the liquidator isn't going to get paid...
How on earth does that happen?
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