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How the childcare crisis is costing North East mums their careers

The UK’s childcare crisis is pushing families into poverty and women out of work. Dawn McGuigan finds out how North East mothers are juggling their careers with ever-increasing childcare costs.

Written by High Life North
Published Today

By Dawn McGuigan

The UK’s childcare crisis is pushing families into poverty and women out of work.

North East parents are spending 62% of their weekly wage on childcare. That’s a huge amount of money to pull out before bills are paid, the weekly food shop is completed, or any luxury items are even considered.

It’s crippling many families across the region. But it’s also having a huge impact on women’s careers.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there has been a 5% increase in the past year of women not working to look after their families. It’s the first sustained increase in 30 years.

I wanted to see how North East women were managing their careers and families in the face of these increasing challenges.

Women told me they feel the childcare system is out of touch with how modern families live. Many said they reduced to part-time hours after starting a family and had never recovered their career trajectory. Some women find it difficult to get any additional support through the Universal Credit system, while most feel they are simply working to pay their childcare bill.


Sally Forster, from Newcastle, found her career was turned upside down following the birth of her twin girls. She planned to reduce her full-time job in a bank to three days after maternity leave, but her wages wouldn’t cover the nursery fees. Even with the government’s tax-free childcare scheme (in which the government covers 20% of childcare fees), Sally was worse off going back to her old job.

She stopped working and began claiming Universal Credit while considering her options. Sally now works as a self-employed singing teacher for 14 hours a week, with plans to increase her hours once her girls are eligible for the 30 free hours of childcare scheme. When those hours kick in, Sally will also have to pay a consumables charge to the nursery, who says the Government funding is simply not enough to support the 30 hours scheme in the face of rising energy and food prices.

“The system is so broken, it’s unreal,” says Sally. “No one should ever be better off by quitting their jobs.”

Ironically, on the day I wrote this article, I was told my three daughters’ nursery fees would be rising by £170 a month from April. Alongside a new mortgage deal that starts in May and the end of the government’s Energy Bills Support Scheme, my husband and I have to find another £400 a month to cover our bills. I don’t know where it will come from. Reducing my working hours may be the only answer.


Campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed found that 1 in 4 parents (26%) who use formal childcare spend 75% of their take-home pay on it, and 1 in 3 had to rely on some form of debt to cover the costs.

In October last year, hundreds of North East women took part in the group’s March for Mummies protest in Newcastle to demand childcare reform from the government.

Beth Hazon – Co-founder and Managing Director of Newcastle-based creative studio Do Gooder and Pregnant Then Screwed board member – believes the Government must act now.

“Our childcare sector is collapsing and it needs urgent intervention,” she says. “Mothers are currently set up to fail and it’s impossible for most families to survive without two incomes, yet we’re making it impossible for mothers to work.

“The ‘you can have it all’ rhetoric is piped to us as the achievable dream if you work hard enough. That dream cannot come true if there isn’t the infrastructure there to support you. And that’s a heartbreaking lesson to learn for so many people.”

It seems counterproductive to underfund the childcare system when supporting it could provide a massive boost to the economy.


Research found that if women had access to adequate childcare and could work the hours they wanted, they would increase their earnings by between £7.6 billion and £10.9 billion per annum. This would generate up to £28.2 billion in economic output each year.

At last, the Government is finally listening to the pleas of working parents and the economic arguments.

In the Spring Budget statement on 15th March this year, the Chancellor announced the extension of the 30 hours free childcare scheme for children aged nine months to three years, for parents working over 16 hours per week. The scheme will be rolled out from April 2024, with all eligible parents of under-fives receiving support by September 2025.

The Government will also pay the childcare costs of parents on Universal Credit moving into work or increasing hours upfront instead of in arrears.

Of course, these are hugely welcomed changes to a system that is failing working families.

But with a year to wait until the new funding roll-out begins, and two-and-a-half years until it reaches everyone, many North East women will continue to lose work or sacrifice their careers because they simply can’t afford to go to work.

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