Working mothers face childcare crisis as new term starts, finds TUC poll

By agency reporter
September 4, 2020

Around two in five (41 per cent) working mothers with children under 10 can’t get – or are unsure whether they will get – enough childcare to cover the hours they need for work this September, according to a new TUC poll.

As children around England begin to return to school, an ICM survey for the TUC reveals that many mothers are missing out on their usual forms of childcare. Among those who are certain they are  unable to get enough childcare from September:

  • Nearly half (45 per cent) said they don’t have their usual help from friends and family
  • More than a third (35 per cent) told the TUC they cannot get places at after-school clubs
  • Nearly one in three (28 per cent) have lost childcare provided by school breakfast clubs
  • The same proportion (28 per cent) do not have their usual nursery or childminder available.

The polling also shines a light on the huge pressures felt by working mothers during the coronavirus outbreak:

  • The vast majority (90 per cent) of working mothers said they have taken on more childcare responsibilities since the pandemic began
  • More than two in five (43 per cent) said they have had to combine working at home and childcare – compared to less than three in 10 (29 per cent) of their partners
  • Three in 10 (30 per cent) mothers told the TUC they regularly worked early in the morning (pre-8am) or late at night (post-8pm) to balance work and childcare
  • One in six (16 per cent) – mostly those in low-paid jobs – said that they have had no choice but to reduce their working hours.

While some mothers have had to take a financial hit by cutting back on work, others have felt the stress of trying to ‘do it all’ and now worry how they will be viewed by their managers:

  • Nearly one in five (18 per cent) said that they were worried that balancing work and childcare has affected how they will be assessed by their manager
  • One in six (16 per cent) told the TUC they were worried that it has impacted their chances of a promotion in the future.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Women workers have borne the brunt of this crisis – both on the frontline and at home.

“Mums have picked up the majority of childcare while nurseries and schools have been closed. And many have sacrificed hours and pay to do so – especially those in low-paid jobs who can least afford the financial hit.

“But this can’t go on. If we don’t take this childcare crisis seriously women will be pushed out of the workforce, turning the clock back on decades of labour market progress.

“Childcare providers desperately need new government cash to stay open. And we need an extension to the job retention scheme for mums and dads who can’t return to work because of childcare responsibilities.”

The TUC is calling on the government to:

  • Protect women’s jobs during the COVID-19 crisis: The option of furlough should remain in place beyond October to support parents who are unable to return to work because of childcare responsibilities until schools and childcare settings are fully reopened
  • Give financial support to the childcare sector: An urgent cash boost – similar to the financial help given to the industry in Germany – is needed so that childcare providers can continue to offer the levels of care they were providing before the pandemic.
  • Enable parents to balance work and childcare: give staff the right to work as flexibly as possible from their first day in the job. Flexible working can take lots of different forms, including having predictable or set hours, working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours and term-time working.

Ness (not her real name), a midwife in the South East, has two young children at primary school. She’s finding it hard to plan her childcare for this term as the school now requires breakfast and after school club to be booked weeks in advance – but she doesn’t get her shift pattern that far ahead and so is not able to guarantee there will be spaces for her children.

Ness told the TUC: “Working shifts and being on call means it is hard to plan ahead for my childcare. Although my husband has been able to work at home, he is under increasing pressure to be in the office more frequently. Our childcare plans aren’t confirmed for September and the coming months, and this is extremely stressful.”

Anya (not her real name) is a mother of two living in the South East. She works on the frontline in the NHS. As a keyworker she has been going out to work throughout the pandemic. Anya’s husband is also a keyworker and works long hours driving, and her parents had to shield so she lost the informal childcare support she relied on.

Anya told the TUC: “Childcare has been very stressful for me throughout the pandemic. My husband has no flexibility in his job so I’ve frequently had to change my shift patterns, working longer hours when I can so I can take time back for childcare. My only other option would have been to take unpaid leave. The school holiday playscheme was also cancelled at short notice so I had no childcare for the summer holidays and my family couldn’t help. My husband and I had to take all our annual leave separately to cover it.”

* Trades Union Congress


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