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New poll shows working parents spend a big chunk of their pay on childcare
  • TUC says this is putting “huge pressure” on family budgets 

  • Union body calls for an urgent plan to get wages rising across the economy – and an immediate increase in the minimum wage to at least £10 an hour 

Around one in three (32%) working parents with pre-school children spend more than a third of their wages on childcare, according to a TUC poll published today (Thursday). 

The new poll – carried out for the TUC by BritainThinks – found that many working parents with young children are spending a huge proportion of their salary on childcare. 

Nearly one in five (18%) parents with children not yet in school say that they spend between a third and half their salary on childcare. And around one in seven (15%) say that the costs take up more than half of their pay. 

BME and disabled parents 

Across parents of all age groups, a third (32%) say they spend more than 10% of their income on childcare. And one in five parents (19%) spend more than a third.  

Black and minority ethnic (BME) and disabled working parents are particularly likely to spend more of their income on childcare bills: 

  • One in three (32%) BME parents told the TUC that they spend more than a third of their salary on childcare, and one in eight (12%) have childcare costs of more than half their wages (compared to 16% and 6% of white workers). 

  • And more than a third (35%) of disabled parents say they’re spending over a third of their pay on childcare costs. Around one in seven (15%) spend over half their salary on childcare (compared to 16% and 6% of non-disabled workers). 

The union body believes this is because of discrimination in the jobs market that means BME and disabled workers are much more likely to be in low-paid jobs. 

Long-term economic plan 

The TUC is calling on the government to come up with a long-term plan to get wages rising across the economy and is asking ministers to raise the minimum wage to at least £10 an hour immediately. 

The union body also wants the government to work with unions and employers on sector-wide fair pay agreements to urgently improve living standards. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Parents are spending a massive chunk of their pay packets on childcare bills, while their wages stagnate. 

“This is putting huge pressure on family budgets. We desperately need a plan to get wages rising across the economy, or too many families will have to choose between turning their heating on or putting food on the table. 

“Every worker in Britain should be paid a wage they can live on – that goes up with the cost of living.  

“And the government must commit to a boost in childcare funding to ensure decent affordable childcare for everyone.” 

Cash boost for childcare 

The TUC is also calling for an urgent cash boost for the sector – like the financial help given to transport networks – to give childcare workers better wages, and a long-term funding settlement to make sure childcare is affordable and available for families. 

The union body argues that childcare is a vital part of our economic recovery. Investing in good quality, affordable childcare would support working parents and help the sector recover from the pandemic. 

Case study 

Shabby Ismail, 36, is a retail worker – and Usdaw union rep, health and safety rep and branch secretary – from Salford. She told the TUC: 

“I have a 3-year-old son and I’m about to have another baby.  

“My son was 11 months old when I put him into nursery because we couldn’t afford for me to stay at home and for my husband to cover all the bills. But because of the cost of childcare, I had to drop my hours from 39 a week to 20 a week. My son went to nursery for two and a half days a week and it cost £611 a month. I was only getting paid £800 a month. 

“My son turned three in October, and we got the 30 hours free childcare. But because we’re having another baby he does more hours now, so it still costs us over £600 a month. 

“Childcare takes a big toll on our finances, but we feel it is beneficial to our son’s development – and he absolutely loves going. It’s just a shame it costs so much money. 

“I’m about to have another baby and I’m already thinking about childcare costs next year. My eldest son’s birthday is in October, so he won’t go to school until next year. With two kids in nursery, we’re looking at £1,200 a month – I don’t even earn that much. 

“I know it’s either that or I sit at home. But I can’t just sit at home because I’ve always worked and I enjoy working. It’s just going to be a difficult financially.   

“Our childcare costs mean we have to cut back on other things. I don’t really buy clothes for myself, I just buy clothes for the little one. We were planning on buying a new car because mine is quite old now, but with two kids in nursery next year we’ve had to put that on hold. We’ve also just bought a new house, but we can’t afford to get it decorated.   

“I wish it was easier for working mums to juggle their careers with raising children.”  

Editors note

- The BritainThinks online survey was conducted between 14-21 December 2021, with a sample of 2,209 workers in England and Wales. For more information about BritainThinks please visit:  
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. 

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