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Enabling working parents? The experiences of parents in the childcare market

6 July 2015

Our current childcare system is not set up in the interests of parents who are trying to work or study to move forward in their lives.  

Our new report ‘Enabling working parents? [ 2.2 mb]’  relates the experiences of 20 parents of young children when trying to navigate the childcare and labour markets, and follows on from previous Citizens Advice research that highlighted the inflexibility of childcare provision.  

This report describes how difficult the complex system of childcare funding and delivery is to navigate, how it requires that parents and carers spend too much time and energy in order to understand their childcare choices, and the impact that using childcare will have on their household income.

It explores how parents deal with undersupply of childcare, and shows how this can leave them unable to access the flexible provision that they need to stay in work, study or progress their careers when their children are young.

If finding childcare is difficult, maintaining a childcare arrangement can be even more so. Parents face numerous setbacks and challenges in making childcare work, with some finding that this challenge is not worth the financial reward.

Lack of access to sufficient flexible and affordable childcare can have a serious impact on parents’ ability to work, study and progress their careers. The parents we spoke to had struggled to maintain the delicate balance between their jobs or study and their childcare.

Either work/study or childcare needed to be flexible, and where both were not, this led to parents changing jobs or careers, missing out on progression opportunities and in some cases leaving the labour market altogether. Those who managed to make it work often did so at a cost to family life and severe strain on their household budgets.

Parents often felt that the market was rigged against them, and that they system was set up in a way that made it hard for them to work. In two-parent families, there was pressure on the main ‘breadwinner’ both to provide financially and to keep up with family-unfriendly workplace cultures

These personal stories suggest that childcare policy needs to be based in  a more person and family-centred approach. Too often the focus has been on developing the market by boosting demand or supply of childcare, and on improving early childhood education or maternal employment. But not enough effort has been put into designing a holistic childcare system that fits with people's real lives, behaviours and needs.

With this in mind, the report sets out some short term policy recommendations and some medium and long term policy implications.