New report says childcare investment is key to equal pay

By agency reporter
November 18, 2019

The Young Women’s Trust has called for a major  investment in childcare as new research shows young mothers not only locked out of work and equal pay, but going hungry to afford scant and expensive support.

The charity said the UK could only significantly tackle the pay gap by investing in free year-round childcare from the end of parental leave, by offering 12 weeks of equal and paid paternity leave on a “use it or lose it basis”, and by providing flexible schemes for those who work irregular hours. 

The very idea of equal pay is a distant dream for young women whose first concern is how to balance the most basic needs, said Young Women’s Trust CEO, Sophie Walker.

Walker added:   "Our report reveals half of all working mothers aged 18-30 skip meals at least once a week because they struggle to balance just getting to work against the cost, inflexibility and inaccessibility of childcare. We’re a long way off dealing with the basic problem of access to paid work, which is the foundation of access to equal pay.”

The Childcare: What young women want report draws on findings from focus groups held across the country and a Survation survey for Young Women’s Trust of UK mothers aged 18-30.  It found: 

  • More than three in four young mothers (78 per cent) said a lack of flexible and affordable childcare was a barrier to finding employment
  • 57 per cent were unable to take up employment because of a lack of suitable childcare options 
  • One in three young mothers was forced to leave a job because she could not afford childcare and more than half of those polled said they would work more hours if they could find flexible childcare at an affordable price
  • Two thirds of employed young mothers are struggling or just about managing financially, rising to 82 per cent of those who are not working because they cannot afford childcare
  • One in four working mothers skip meals every day to make ends meet. Half of working mothers are skipping meals at least once a week to provide for their children – rising to 64 per cent among those on Universal Credit 

Said Walker: “If we are serious about ending poverty, driving economic growth and achieving sex and pay equality, then childcare must be treated as a fundamental part of the country’s infrastructure. Yet as our report shows, successive governments have failed young mums, especially those struggling to live on low or no pay.  It is scandalous that young women are having to skip meals to meet childcare costs and make ends meet. But it is also not surprising given that Britons pay for the most expensive childcare in Europe – an average of £127 per week or over £6,600 per year. Clearly, childcare has not been treated as a national priority.

“Society will value care when men do it as well as women – right now statistics show women lose three percent of pay for every child they have while fathers get a 21 percent pay bonus – and when everyone has a stake in it. Extended paid-for paternity leave on a 'use it or lose it' basis is key, as is state-funded free childcare so it's no longer assumed to be women's work.

“Any political party serious about winning women’s votes need to listen to them and invest in a childcare and parental leave system that is affordable, flexible and easy to use.”

The research also found that discrimination and inflexibility by employers are making the situation worse, with one in four mothers polled saying they had been discriminated against after disclosing they were pregnant, and 40 per cent  saying they had been asked how being a mum affects their ability to work. One in three said requests to work flexible hours were turned down by their boss. 

Young Women’s Trust is calling on the next Government to put childcare reform and supporting parents at the heart of their legislative programme, including by:  

  • Extending free childcare to start at the end of paid parental leave at nine months and increasing the entitlement for free childcare so that it is available year round 
  • Changing the rules under Universal Credit so parents can choose to have childcare costs paid directly to the provider so no parent has to pay upfront costs they can’t afford 
  • Allowing parents with irregular working hours to access a new out of hours childcare voucher scheme so they can take advantage of free childcare  
  • Extending eligibility for 30 hours free childcare to those in education and training, and consulting on the feasibility of extending eligibility to jobseekers to provide continuity and stability for children and parents 
  • Investing in publicising existing support including free childcare and tax-free childcare
  • Changing legislation to give all workers and employees the right to request flexible working from day one in a new job whilst requiring employers to advertise jobs as flexible or justify why they are not able to do so
  • Extending parental leave, including by increasing the current paternity leave allowance to 12 weeks at 90 per cent pay on a 'use it or lose it basis' . 

* Read Childcare: What young women want here

* Young Women's Trust https://www.youngwomenstrust.org/

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