Monday, June 17, 2024

More than two thirds of working parents consider quitting jobs because of childcare costs, research finds

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More than two thirds (70 per cent) of working parents in the UK have left or are considering leaving their job as a result of the cost of childcare, new research by HR platform Remote has revealed.  

The Working Parents Survey collected information from 1,501 working men and women with at least one child under five years old in March 2023. Respondents all worked in white collar ‘desk jobs’ and were evenly split between fully remote, hybrid and in-office working arrangements, according to Remote. 

Of those surveyed, 73 per cent said they had taken a pay cut or reduced hours because of a lack of affordable childcare, and return to office mandates were seen as particularly concerning, with 73 per cent fearing the impact on childcare costs of having to go into the office for more days. 

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Furthermore, nearly two thirds (63 per cent) said they had been reprimanded or received negative feedback at work for taking unplanned time off for their child being sick. Three quarters of respondents felt guilty or anxious for taking time off for childcare needs, with working mothers (78 per cent) more likely to feel guilty for unplanned childcare-related absences than working fathers (68 per cent). 

One in four had either postponed or reconsidered having more children in the past year, and 21 per cent said that balancing work and childcare had had a negative impact on their mental health. Overall, those surveyed named flexible working hours as their top priority when looking for a job (37 per cent), ahead of pay (35 per cent) and job security (25 per cent).  

Barbara Matthews, chief people officer at Remote, said of the findings: “Working parents are the glaringly obvious solution to the UK’s ever-growing skills gap, but this research shows just how little they are being supported. Working parents could be the answer recruitment teams have been looking for, but it’s clear that the cost of childcare is holding them back from fully returning to the workforce.”

She called for urgent action to bring down the cost of childcare and for working parents to be offered the support and flexibility that they needed to return to work “in a sustainable way”. 

Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said the Remote research echoed the findings of Working Families’ own research and understanding from its helpline, reinforcing that “the struggles with accessing childcare and inadequate support parents receive to manage their caring responsibilities is having a detrimental impact on parents”. 

Its Working Families Index 2023 – Spotlight report, which focused on the experience of lower-income families, found that parents have had to leave jobs, fallen into debt and had their mental health and relationships affected by the lack of affordable childcare. Four in 10 had found themselves in debt to cover childcare costs, and three in 10 parents surveyed were working below their skill level because it offered greater flexibility. 

“While the new flexible working legislation is welcome, there is some way to go before we can say that the dial has shifted toward an appreciation of the advantages of flexible working,” van Zyl said. 

“With the right implementation, flex has the power to unlock significant benefits for both employees and employers. Successful flexible working goes hand in hand with an understanding and supportive culture. Employers that are flying the flag for flexibility are also proving that it isn’t just good for business; with an engaged workforce, the appeal to a diverse range of talent and low staff turnover, it’s better.”

Charlotte Woodworth, gender equality director at Business in the Community, said: “The extortionate cost of childcare leaves many working parents thinking ‘is work actually worth it?’

“Employers have a vital role to play in building cultures where caring is seen as the norm, not the exception, so working parents can truly balance their careers alongside their caring responsibilities. 

“At any one time, nearly half the UK workforce are juggling caring responsibilities alongside the day job. Affordable, quality childcare is crucial, but parents have told us they also need employers to step up, with access to truly flexible work, support for dads as well as mums when it comes to taking time out to look after children, and a culture where caring is the norm, not the exception, vital.”

Mandy Garner, managing editor of WorkingMums, added that there was “real concern about how the extension of ‘free’ childcare will impact childcare providers”. She told People Management: “Employers that understand employee needs and focus on negotiating something that works for all parties will do better when it comes to recruitment and retention. Moreover, constantly worrying about childcare logistics has a huge impact on parents’ wellbeing and therefore on work. This is a society issue and employers should be part of the solution.”

Read the CIPD’s guide to planning and managing flexible working

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