Counting the cost of childcare
In Europe parents spend an average of 13% of salaries on childcare costs; 5% in Sweden and 27% in the UK. We have a problem in the UK that needs remedying. We know that women’s careers are often stunted when they take part-time work after childbirth (and they get paid a whole lot less on average as part-time usually equates to lower status) and we also know there’s no evidence that children whose mothers work are no worse off than children who’s mammas are available to them around the clock. (Take a look at Anne McMunn’s work at the London School of Economics for evidence on that second point). Given these points there’s no good reason for the UK Government – save for the taxation gap, but more on how I’d deal with that later – not to make childcare costs 100% tax deductible. No more fannying around with childcare vouchers: all childcare should be paid from gross earnings and blow the few people who’d abuse the system. It’s been on my mind since 2007 when I came to engage a childminder to look after my then five month old son and realised I couldn’t claim for this particular cost alongside others I included on my tax return as part of running my business. Madness. Ridiculous. Wholly unfair. It’s taken me until now on the day that the Resolution Foundation released their research paper, Counting the Costs of Childcare, to launch my petition to the Government to make this change. The e-petition to HM Government entitled “Make childcare costs 100% tax deductible” is open and awaiting your signature. What else can we do to help ourselves with the childcare burdern? Some thoughts:
- Blow the legalities around childminding – let’s start looking after each others’ children on the days we’re not in the office if we’re working part time. I know two couples who’ve shared a nanny for several years and covered the time when she’s been on holiday or ill between the four of them. I dare say they could have made this a regular arrangement for one day a week if they were keen to save on childcare – each adult could take charge once a month.
- Fathers and mothers pitch, pitch and pitch again for flexible working arrangements to allow more waking time at home with your child(ren). Flipping the lid on your macbook in the evening is surely more desirable than half the mindless crap that’s on the TV which many whacked out parents turn to at night. I used to work with a female bread winner and mother of two who worked a day a week from home and whilst she was always available on the phone on a Wednesday it wasn’t a secret she was actually taking care of the baby and would be making up her hours in the evening. The reason? They were stretched financially.
- Support flexible working requests that may be made of you as a line manager – if you’re in a position to influence the culture in your organisation I implore you to do it. The Huffington Post last week reported on research by academics at Harvard showing men in ‘traditional marriages’ (where their wives stay at home and run domestic affairs) “come to the workplace thinking women are meant to be second-in-line and occupy facilitative roles such as secretarial – as opposed to – managerial positions.” Thinking long term and to the top of organisations, this kind of prejudicial thinking is one more barrier to gender balanced boards that the Government is considering legislating for.
- Consider modern kibbutz-esque living – this is radical I admit and it’s a social experiment I’ve had back of mind to pitch to the likes of Lion Television (the folks who put Ben Fogle on Taransay) or Freemantle Media for some time. Imagine living closely with a few other families and sharing childcare, cooking and an au pair to allow all your careers to continue.
- Relocate grandparents to play a bigger part in your lives as we did. After four years of parenthood with no occasional help, no fallback support, no release at the weekends we reflected on the quality of our lives (not before trialling an au pair which can be another good option, especially if you get a good one) and talked to my husband’s mum about coming to join us. She’s a legend, so good with the children and I like to think the relationship is symbiotic.
- Sign the petition to make childcare costs 100% tax deductible. The loss in tax revenue could be clawed back by HMRC by closing the loopholes that allow UK businesses and individuals to send their money offshore. There are shocking tales of how much money is ‘hidden’ on Jersey and Guernsey which I’d argue is inappropriate. Sign the e-petition “Make childcare costs 100% tax deductible” on HM Government website now and ask your friends, family and colleagues to do the same.
If you’re currently exploring childcare options or know someone who is, chapter four of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work (Hay House, 2011) takes a comprehensive look at how to find care that fits your family.