How much have your little darlings COST you?
How much have your little darlings COST you? Working mother of three ISABEL OAKESHOTT worked out she’s spent half a million pounds on childcare. Here she rages against the price women are still forced to pay for a career
- Isabel Oakeshott, based in the UK, revealed she’s spent £500,000 on childcare
- Working mother, who has three children, now 13, ten and eight, was ‘shocked’
- Here, three mothers tot up their spend so far — and reveal how much childcare will set them back in total…
When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, his earnings plummeted as he was forced to give up a £250,000-a-year newspaper job. With an expensive divorce and a growing family to support, he found himself struggling to make ends meet.
Carrie’s decision to return to work nine months after the birth of their son, Wilfred, should have eased his financial woes but, as the couple soon discovered, childcare doesn’t come cheap. According to reports, they were so taken aback by the crippling cost of employing a nanny that they hoped a wealthy donor might help.
While I had no sympathy for their troubles paying for fancy new wallpaper, I can relate to any new parent’s dismay at childcare costs. After all, the UK has the second most expensive childcare in the world — and if the Prime Minister and his wife keep working full-time, they will soon rack up a six-figure sum.
I speak from experience, having been paying for a full-time nanny for my three children, now 13, ten and eight, for more than a decade. Over the years, I have avoided calculating how much I’ve spent, knowing that the grand total would be too depressing.
After all, I can’t do my job without such help, and accept it as the price of having both a young family and a very rewarding career.
Hearing of Boris’s travails, I decided it was time to face facts, so I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation. I have spent more than £500,000 on nannies, nurseries and au pairs since my youngest son was born in 2007. Over half a million pounds! Even I was shocked.
With all three children now at school, it has been a while since I have needed full-time help, but finding flexible wrap-around/after-hours childcare is near enough impossible where we live (the Cotswolds), so keeping our nanny on as the children got older made most sense. There are still the long school holidays to cover and very few au pairs around.
By the time I have finished paying for childcare, I reckon I will have racked up at least another £50,000 — probably double that. Granted, I am an extreme case. I often work anti-social hours, including late nights and weekends. Prior to the pandemic, I travelled a lot. For a decade, I had no family nearby, plus a long-distance commute to London from Oxfordshire, making me heavily reliant on paid help.
Yet I am far from alone in depending on hugely expensive childcare. A full-time live-out nanny costs around £35,000 a year, while the average full-time nursery place for a child aged under two is just under £14,000.
At around £8 an hour, childminders, who look after small groups of children in their own home, are cheaper but can be hard to find. All this gobbles up half of the average salary, which is £31,461.
In the U.S., Canada, Ireland and Switzerland, it’s a third, while in Italy and Japan, hefty subsidies make childcare almost free.
There is some respite after children turn three, when the UK Government provides a minimum of 15 hours free nursery care in term time.
The pandemic has only made the situation worse. More than 2,000 childcare providers closed in the first four months of this year, according to government data.
Nearly half of English local authorities have seen nursery providers up their prices in the past year.
Some have also reduced the number of free early-education entitlement places they offer.Most women in the UK earn less than half of Carrie Symonds’ £70,000-a-year salary as a charity’s head of communications. Many who want to carry on working have little left of their pay packet after childcare.
Others simply give up work, assuming they will be able to return later, only to lose their confidence and skills.
Now the Prime Minister can see that for himself, perhaps he will consider the bold reforms required for change. At the very least, childcare should be a tax-deductible expense for the self-employed.
The entitlement to an average of 15 hours a week free nursery care for three- and four-year-olds should be extended to the school holidays. Yes, it’s expensive — but not as costly as limiting so many women who want full-time jobs to part-time work.
Here, three mothers tot up their spend so far — and reveal how much childcare will set them back in total . . .
CHILDCARE IS MORE THAN I GOT PAID
Sarah Hesz (pictured with Rosie and Noa), 38, who works for a flexible childcare app, and her husband Alex, 39, who works in advertising, live in London with their children, Rosie, eight, Leo, six, and Noa, three
It’s so expensive we just cannot afford to have more children
Chloe Seeley, 39, who works in talent acquisition for Amazon, and husband Kyle, 35, an account director, from Rochester, Kent, have two children, Amelie, four, and Rafael, two.
Chloe Seeley, 39, pictured with her two children, Amelie, four, and Rafael, two
SPEND SO FAR: £100,000
Projected TOTAL: £200,000
‘The childcare system is really unfair and incredibly sexist,’ says Chloe. ‘Unless you can afford it, you have to give up your job if you want kids.
‘Rightly or wrongly, this choice always seems to fall on the woman. So people are reverting to these traditional set-ups. Women should be able to have children and a career — and at the moment it’s not really possible. For single parents, it’s impossible.’
Sarah earns more than her husband, who spends two-thirds of his salary on childcare.
She says: ‘We can’t afford to have any more children. We wouldn’t even contemplate it because it’s so crazy expensive. The amount of money going out of our account every month is depressing. ‘It is more than our mortgage. It’s enough to buy a house.’ The family were living in London when their eldest was born and Chloe signed up to a nursery in 2016.
‘It cost £250 just to put my daughter’s name down. It was a lovely nursery and brand new, but it was extortionate — £1,800 a month for one child. I’d gone too far in my career to give it all up.’
She returned to work four days a week, although she would have liked to have done just three: ‘That wasn’t an option financially. It only just about made sense doing four days.’ With the grandparents two hours away, childcare was a constant source of stress for the working couple.
By the time they had their second child, they realised it would be cheaper to hire a nanny than pay for them both to be in nursery.
‘It’s £2,500 a month for the nanny but that’s still cheaper,’ says Chloe.
Owing to the pandemic, she is working from home but things will become difficult when she returns to the office. ‘The nanny does 9am to 5.30pm and that doesn’t match working hours.
‘Once they’re both in school, after-school clubs finish at 4.30pm so they will still need wrap-around care.
‘If we keep going like this, we’ll easily spend another £100,000 by the time they are both in full-time school, but what choice do we have?’
Once your child reaches three, you could be entitled to up to 30 hours of free childcare but Chloe says this is simply not good enough.
‘You can’t take a three-year gap out of your career . . . It feels like it’s either your career or your child and that is so unfair.’
Now, the couple have moved to Kent where things are marginally cheaper.
‘We’re going to go to the end of the year and see what’s happening with coronavirus and working from home and assess if our childcare costs are still worth it.
‘But I think the Government needs to urgently review this. Something needs to change and soon.’
Sarah Hesz, 38, who works for a flexible childcare app, and her husband Alex, 39, who works in advertising, live in London with their children, Rosie, eight, Leo, six, and Noa, three.
SPEND SO FAR: £200,000
Projected SPEND: £300,000
When Sarah got pregnant with their first child, she and her husband both had successful careers in advertising. She was so preoccupied with buggies, birth plans and baby clothes, she didn’t consider how much it would cost for her to return to work.
‘People didn’t talk openly about when they planned to have kids or how they’d manage work if they did,’ she says.
Fast forward eight years and the couple have spent a staggering £200,000. They expect to have spent more than £300,000 by the time all their children are in school. Sarah says: ‘It makes me feel sick and a bit embarrassed when I think about how much we’ve spent so far in order for me to keep doing a job I love. I shouldn’t be penalised for doing that — but I am.’
Sarah has paid for every type of childcare —holiday camps, nannies, nurseries, childminders — in order to maintain her career.
At first, the couple tried a childminder, costing £1,400 a month. Once their second child arrived, they realised their only option was a nanny.
There are legal limits around the number of under-fives childminders can take on, and having a nanny meant Sarah and Alex wouldn’t have to factor in drop-offs or pick-ups to pre-school and school to their days.
‘Taking on a nanny is daunting because you become their employer — you pay their pension, tax, maternity leave etc — but having two small children, no family nearby and working in Central London, there were really no other options for my family as there were no nurseries close enough to where we lived.
‘My husband and I both loved our jobs and wanted to work. We love being parents as well but we thought it was important we both work.’ At its peak, they were forking out roughly £34,000 a year on a live-out nanny.
‘It’s hard to leave the office at 5pm when no one else does. I felt as if people were rolling their eyes at me. I look back and think how stupid that was.
‘I should have been proud to leave on time. But I felt vulnerable. It’s a constant jigsaw. Thirty per cent of my brain is always thinking about childcare.’
When Sarah went back to work after her second child, there were times when childcare costs exceeded her income.
‘We had to take the long view,’ she says. ‘It would be a few years of unbelievable costs but it will get better. I feel incredibly angry that many women can’t do that . . . A lot of women are being forced out of the workforce. It’s a real crisis.’
Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that women in paid work receive about 18 per cent less per hour than men. By the time their first child is 12, that figure increases to 33 per cent. Frustrated with the challenges of juggling work with raising her two children, Sarah decided to launch her own business, creating Mush, a social app for mums. She still needed a nanny but could dictate her own schedule to a greater degree.
Last year, she began working for Bubble, a flexible childcare app to find sitters and nannies. She now has a part-time nanny and uses after-school clubs (£6 a day). ‘The price and rigidity of childcare is so limiting to women. Research by Save The Children found that half of stay-at-home mums in the UK would rather be working if they had access to affordable childcare.
‘The cost of childcare has such an enormous impact on society, our economy. I think solving it could go some way to fixing the gender pay gap and equality.’
MY COMPANY SAID NO FLEXI WORKING
Clare, 42, and Jon O’Reilly, 48, both journalists from Plymouth, Devon, have three children, Eddie, 17, Sammy, 12, and Annie, ten.
SPEND SO FAR: £150,000
Projected SPEND: £150,000
Clare, 42, and Jon O’Reilly, 48, both journalists from Plymouth, Devon, have three children, Eddie, 17, Sammy, 12, and Annie, ten (pictured together)
They have spent vast sums on childcare but for Clare, whose mother was a first-generation migrant from Portugal, work has always been paramount.
‘My mum worked as a cleaner and my dad was disabled so didn’t work,’ she says. ‘We were very much a working-class household and every penny counted. It was drilled into me from the get-go that having a career was extremely important.
‘It’s important to me that my children have a female working role model. But many women are having to sacrifice their careers because it’s not cost-effective.’
She was working in magazines when she had her first child and, despite earning a decent salary, spent the majority on childcare.
‘I remember asking if I could do flexible working and they said no,’ she says. ‘It was really tough. I was made to feel uncomfortable. Women have got so much stacked against them in the workplace anyway, and when you have kids, you’re made to feel like a dead weight.’
Luckily for Clare, her husband is a freelance journalist and has always worked from home, meaning pick-ups and drop-offs are easier. That hasn’t stopped them spending ‘enough to buy a holiday home in France’ on nurseries, nannies and clubs.
‘Nursery costs £1,000 a month per child and I spent up to £300 a week on the nanny,’ says Clare. ‘It’s eye-watering sums. So no wonder a lot of women are being forced to stay at home.’
While the couple have just about managed to afford it, they have made a lot of sacrifices. They didn’t have their first foreign holiday until their eldest was nine and instead of trying to buy a bigger house in London, they moved to Plymouth.
Clare hopes that one upside to the pandemic may be a shift in attitudes towards flexible working but thinks more accessible childcare needs to be introduced. ‘Things need to be easier.’
Interviews by Giulia Crouch
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