Sunday, 7 February 2010

£hildcare - the numbers game.

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?


  1. I read that Observer article as well. About the woman getting £20 effectively. Also I just don't get how a nursery can go bust. The government send out such mixed messages - trying to get mothers back into work and yet just not offering the right incentives. Like the woman in the article said, Why should she work just to pay someone else to look after her own children?

    I used to live in London and paid extortionate nursery fees. Now I'm on the south coast and freelance but I don't actually have any childcare. Unless I can secure the work, I can't afford the childcare. And yet I don't really have the time in the day to look for work because I have no childcare. (Unless she's napping).

    Good post!

  2. Nurseries pay their staff such small wages as well, I don't know how they manage to operate at a loss given what they charge. And another thing on nannies: one of my friends has had to pay maternity leave to one nanny while paying for another. What a headache.

  3. arrrrrrrgh!! this is all I have to say on the subject. If I went back to work I'd be getting about £10 an hour so the maths suck in my equation.

    This whole work or stay at home lark is doing my head in. Literally DOING. MY. HEAD. IN!!!!

  4. the number of women I know who went back to work and didn't after their second is huge. The numbers just don't add up. Like they say, why should we work to pay someone else to look after our children? Great post.

  5. I live in the US and at the rate I would be paid to work, I wouldn't even make enough to break even on childcare. It's crazy. But at the same time, it's an easier decision to stay home that way for me. Plus childcare around here is rotten unless you pay for an in-home nanny or something, which is infinitely more. Great post!!

  6. That's quite a depressing read.

    Here in the US childcare is cheaper, but that's because the ratios allowed are much less strict. Eg I know one woman who child-minds NINE children. When I asked her how she does it, she replied "three of them are babies, so they sleep a big chunk of the afternoon". That's in her own home. In day care nurseries, I'm not sure what the ratios are, but about double the number of kids to adults in the UK - at a guess. So it makes childcare cheaper - a good thing for the adults, but for the children...?

  7. I say "double", but actually, I think it's far more than that. You can have a whole after school programme run by a couple of bored-looking teenagers, as far as I can tell.

  8. We've been lucky so far because the husband's been able to do the after school hours whilst still working from home, although I'm not entirely sure how he's managed to do it. Things are definitely going to get interesting when I have to go back to work and leave him with the baby though.

  9. Deer Baby - I take my (lovingly handmade, if unfinished) hat off to you. I can't get anything done on the days I'm at home, so how you manage to work. One of the absolute musts in any conversation I have with B about me working from home (at whatever) is that the girls will have to be in childcare. I have no idea how you do it...
    Emily - Maternity leave for a nanny?! I know it happens, and she is absolutely entitled to it, but that's very hard on your friend. And even if she stopped work, she'd still be paying the maternity leave, and I guess would then have to go through making the nanny redundant in due course.
    George's Mum - I prescribe a large glass of wine...
    BiB - I know. It's exactly the same among my friends. Hardly anyone I know has gone back after their second... I just couldn't make that decision without trying it....
    Glowstars - it's such a juggling act isn't it. Very good luck in the months to come.
    Iota/Organic Motherhood - I realise actually that we're very much better off here than you/they are in the US. My American friends nearly fell over backwards when I said I was taking a year off and getting paid for nine months of it... I guess with many women needing to go back to work earlier, maybe childcare becomes more available and market forces push it down. Plus in the ultimate free market economy I suppose you get what you pay for and the argument would be that if you want high staff to children ratios, you have to pay for them.... Maybe I should stop whinging?!

  10. I think your colleague is right, if you enjoy work and it is important to stay working for the longer term gains/ promtions etc then go with it. After my first child I changed jobs and dropped £40K and went to work for £20 per week (after the childcare cost) but I loved being there and then they paid for a new professional qualification and for me to do my Ma. Not to mention the 17% they pay into my final salary pension every month. Once JJ got to just over 3 it got easier with the bit of govenment funding you get,then of course the twins appeared and costs rose again!. Luckily my nursery at work is also subsudised but then I do not earn what you do nowdays but I still love to work for 2.5 days per week and it makes me such a better mummy when I am home. It is sad thought how our country can not get it together! Mich x

  11. Scary!! Someone posted anonymous comment asking if I work...I couldn't afford chidcare for toddler plus someone to pick two up at 3pm, be home for another at 4pm, pick son up from station anytime between 5pm and 8pm even if I wanted to!
    Your moving to Scotland!! Wow, that's a big move. :0) xx

  12. this is something that every working mum thinks about - stresses about - all the time. add into the mix that i don't even enjoy being at work and you've got to wonder: what am earth am i doing? i'm going to wonder that even more over the next few weeks as we attempt to switch from nanny to nursery (she dumped us).


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