So, I’m angry. Like so frustrated. But when I rant out loud, I sound like a drunk uncle so I’m going to try and get my thoughts together in some sort of cohesive text – if only for some sort of catharsis because, in case you haven’t heard, I’m angry.
Childcare. A total minefield for lots of reasons, but for now, let’s step over the emotional issues involved with going back to work and think purely about the financial.
I’ve read enough articles where a parent throws out that lovely phrase ‘I was lucky enough that we didn’t need for me to return to work’ and I’m here to call BS. These people are not the majority and for the overwhelming number of us, mummy has to return to work after having kids.
So our childcare journey started when baby A was only 6 months old. We put a call out to friends and family for recommendations and two distant friends from opposite sides of the family recommended the same angel of a childminder. We toured some local nurseries, but the wee man was so settled at her place that we snapped up a place with her immediately. She was also £15 per day cheaper than the local nursery and given that we were sending him all week, that saving of £300 per month was huge. Our bill was roughly equal-to or slightly more than our mortgage payment. (note: our childminder is one in a million – she sorts all their food/snacks/lunches during term time and covers the cost of all trips and excursions, which I know is a top-up payment in most nurseries.)
We were able to offset this a little as both of our employers offer the purchase of childcare vouchers, but critically, this only offers tax relief on the first £243 each. The rest we had to cover with wages.
So when F came along, naturally, our childcare bill doubled. This meant our childcare bill was in the region of £1300 per month and we were in a situation where we had to spot where a dreaded “five week month” would happen and save up the extra in the months head to try and cover the increase. These bills were routinely more than double our mortgage payment.
This was a frustrating time. Working to pay for a house that I saw too infrequently, and working even harder to pay another person to care for my kids. Not to mention paying £110 per month for the commute to work. I felt like I was essentially working to pay for the privilege of working. Grim Times.
Why do we accept this?
Things are a little better now that we have A in school and could get slightly better once F is settled in P1 this year, but I stumbled upon a Belfast Telegraph “article” discussing how “some” families pay childcare bills that are more than their mortgage… (they cited one family!) and it got me so angry to think that this was considered to be an interesting aside of a news feature, when it’s actually not only a fact of life for so many families, it’s so financially debilitating that a quirky article really underplays what is a serious issue. If families in NI were paying that proportion of their income on any other bill, it would be seen as a crisis. I can’t help but think that it’s because mostly women stay home and take the hit.
It got me thinking about why we accept this as a fact of life. I started to think about all the issues that have gotten Northern Irish people fired up in the last 10 years and naturally there’s a lot of partisan issues, but this issue affects everyone – like most economic issues. Imagine we could legislate to offer people some proper tax relief on childcare costs, or supported incentives for companies that allowed working parents a more flexible working pattern to keep these costs down? We would have more people in the workplace, earning money, paying taxes and spending their money. Northern Ireland could do with that money!
NCT estimates that 29% of mothers and 15% of fathers cannot afford to return to work following maternity/paternity leave, and given that a woman’s salary potential drops 4% for every year she is absent from the workplace, by making it unaffordable for people to work after a baby, we’re essentially trapping women in this endless cycle of not earning enough to keep your head above water.
Why do we accept this status quo when it affects so many of us???