Counting the Cost of the Lack of Affordable Childcare
7 December 2012
The envious eyes of those desperately seeking affordable childcare in this country will turn towards Sweden at the news of the extension of its childcare policy to include the opening of childcare facilities during evenings, nights and over weekends.
There is a new funding package which begins next summer , scheduled to run for three years , and which is encouraging councils not already providing childcare at these times to do so.
The Swedish pre-school system spreads from the age of one upwards until compulsory education which begins at 7, with an optional “pre-school year” at the age of six which the vast majority of children attend.
Striking differences between Sweden and the UK are :
* the large public investment in pre-school childcare resources in Sweden contrasted with the private sector involvement here.
* Sweden has capped the cost of affordable childcare at between 1 and 3 per cent of a family’s income, so that all children can enjoy it.
Sweden’s governments have spent soundly on high quality childcare provision, regarding it as a wise investment in the family, the future and females.
2 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product has gone into childcare compared with just 0.5 per cent in the UK.
Central to Sweden’s childcare policy is the maintenance of women’s participation in the workforce and the compatibility of the role of parent and work.
As a result, over 4 out 5 women in Sweden with a child under 15 are at work whereas in the UK it is only 2 out of three.
Typically childcare costs in Sweden are around £140 per month for full-time care.
The Day Care Trust and Children in Scotland published the findings of their survey of childcare costs in Scotland this year .
They concluded that “There are very significant gaps in the availability of childcare in Scotland.
“Only a fifth (21 per cent) of Scottish local authorities report that they have enough childcare for working parents and only one in ten local authorities have enough childcare for parents who work outside normal office hours.
“Scottish local authorities also report that there is insufficient childcare for older children, families in rural areas and those with disabled children……..
“High quality, accessible, affordable childcare is essential for Scottish families. It supports children’s social development and learning and enables their parents to work or study.
“Failing to ensure affordable childcare drives parents out of the labour market and on to benefits and pushes more children into poverty.
“Where childcare is unaffordable or unavailable, children may suffer, families remain in poverty, and often it is women’s skills that are lost as they stay out of the job market for longer.
“ Retaining a skilled workforce is a key issue for Scotland’s future economic prosperity. “
Here are their figures on the weekly cost of childcare for 25 hours a week in Scotland ( compare these figures with a Swedish average of around £35 per week)
Nursery under the age of 2 - £101 per week
Nursery aged 2 and over £94 per week
Childminder under the age of 2 £93 per week
Childminder aged 2 and over 2 £92 per week
Out-of-Schools clubs (13 hours per week ) £48 per week
( Dundee City Council offer a limited number of full-time places where full time care ( 5 days of 9am-3.15 pm) costs £50 per week. )
Recent changes to benefits have seen the maximum amount of money that parents can claim towards the cost of childcare cut by around £10 per week.
The Daycare Trust and the Save The Children investigation found that a quarter of parents questioned said that childcare costs had got them into financial difficulties , with almost 2 out of 3 of them having to struggle to meet these costs.
Investment in childcare is a contributory investment in jobs .
Without it , many talented women remain unemployed.
Their talents would benefit both society and the coffers of the Treasury.
Oxfam told the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee that research conducted by Price Waterhouse Cooper suggested that “ the economic costs and benefits of providing childcare for all one to four year olds are similar in the first 20-30 years”
The traditional “male breadwinner “ family is no longer the only family image for a society that strives to be egalitarian, where both parents’ earning abilities and careers are respected and encouraged.
Next door to Sweden is Norway, another believer in large government spending on the family.
One participant to the Guardian’s recent forum on childcare wrote of her different experiences of the level of childcare in Norway and the UK .
It shows how far we have still to travel.
“ (In Norway) when my child turned one year old, I was offered a full-time kindergarten space at a cost of £180 a month, as the kindergarten system was heavily subsidised by the government.
“Because I chose to stay at home with my child for the first two years, I turned down the kindergarten space, but was given something called "cash-for-care benefit" of £400 a month.
“This allowed me to directly receive the cash that would otherwise have gone towards the kindergarten fees. This cash was on top of regular child allowance (£110 per month).”
“ Most of my Norwegian friends did go back to work, as the system is very flexible and isn't costly.
“I had my second child in the UK.
“When I started to evaluate whether I should go back to work or not, I discovered that nursery fees in the UK (in my area) are £60 a day (that is £1,200 a month, compared with the Norwegian £180 a month).
“Most of my British friends stayed home with their children or worked part time.
“Some became stay-at-home mums by choice and didn't want to return to work.
“However, some wanted to return to work because they needed the money to pay the mortgage or they needed to keep in the loop with their careers or they were concerned for their pensions. But they couldn't! “
Last month the Economist Intelligence Unit published its findings of its study of the best countries in the world for a baby to be born in 2013.
Life expectancy at birth, the quality of family life, quality of community life and gender equality were some of the factors determining the rank order of the countries surveyed.
Switzerland came first, then Australia.
Only slightly behind came the three Scandinavian countries , Norway, Sweden and Denmark, ranked third, fourth and fifth respectively.
Britain, with its high childcare costs, came twenty-seventh.
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