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Balancing work and family: the current climate for parents

Currently, the Government’s 30 free hours of childcare scheme is only applicable to parents who work over 16 hours a week and have a child aged between 3 and 4.

Legal guardians or foster parents who meet these criteria and have been granted a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) can also claim this support, though the application process is slightly different and can vary depending on their local council authority.

In the 2023 Spring Budget, plans were announced for this to be extended, with the aim of encouraging more parents to return to work. When the policy comes into place, “working parents of all children over the age of nine months” will be eligible.

As stated by the Gov.uk Education Hub, these changes will not begin until April 2024 at the earliest. Parents with older children aged between 4 and 5 will not become eligible until September 2025.

In today’s economic climate, families are struggling more than ever before to balance work with childcare fees. Consequently, the proposed wait for increased support of up to 2 years received mixed responses.

We explore the current economic situation for parents in the UK – and what employers can do to support staff in the workplace.

The cost of school summer holidays

In conditions listed by Gov.uk, parents eligible to receive 30 weekly hours of free childcare must claim them “during school term time.”

Six weeks of childcare during the summer holidays will now cost the average parent £943 per child, according to new data from Coram Family and Childcare. For a parent with 3 children, this means the school holidays will incur approximately £3,000 in childcare costs for the same 6-week period.

In theory, term-time support may help to save money which can then be used to cover or reduce childcare fees during the holidays. However, with inflation rates impacting the cost of other essentials such as food and fuel, parents are now wondering whether they can afford to work.

Can parents afford to work? 

In March 2022, Ipsos UK and Business in the Community (BITC) released a study on the divide between paid work and care.
 

  • 6 out of 10 women surveyed reported that caring responsibilities had “stopped them from applying for a promotion or a new job”
  • Almost one in five women had left their job “because it was too hard to balance work and care.”
     

A year later, in March 2023, Pregnant then Screwed and Women in Data conducted a study wherein a sample of “3,540 working parents” were asked about their experiences in the current climate.

In their results, “76% of mothers who pay for childcare [responded that] it no longer makes financial sense for them to work.”

This data suggests that the impact of childcare costs is part of a much bigger issue, combined with ingrained societal issues such as the gender pay gap and motherhood penalty which disproportionately maintain barriers to work for mothers.

Wraparound care

In the Spring Budget, the government also announced that they will roll out funding to schools who are willing to “introduce before and after-school care options (…) every weekday during term time,” otherwise known as wraparound care’.

This decision could alleviate some common schedule challenges for parents – in particular single parents, in turn, opening pathways for them to take on more hours, apply for promotions and earn a higher salary.

Our predictions and recommendations 

As leading East Midlands recruiters, our specialists speak with candidates daily. Our inside knowledge allows us to advise employers on which perks are the most in demand for working parents.

Wraparound care and flexibility

We predict that, whilst the additional support for wraparound care will undoubtedly help working parents, it won’t totally replace the widespread demand for flexible working conditions. Beyond offering hybrid or remote schedules, workplaces that offer flexitime are often praised by parents for allowing true autonomy. This isn’t something we see changing in the near future.

Workplace perks and benefits 

For employers, knowing exactly what benefits will best support your staff can seem like a guessing game. With insights from our recruitment experts, we’ve created a comprehensive list of the perks and benefits that matter for candidates working across our industries.

Raising awareness for staff: schemes available to support parents

As highlighted by Money Saving Expert:

  • Employees with children under the age of 16, who work and claim Universal Credit can reclaim “a maximum of £951” to cover childcare costs for one child or “£1,630 for two or more children.” This can be claimed throughout the year, including during school holidays
     
  • Employees who aren’t on Universal Credit, but are still eligible for Child Tax Credit can claim “up to £2,000 per year, per child until the 1st September after your child turns 11.”
     
  • If an employee has a child (or children) with a disability, they can claim “up to £4,000 per year, per child until the 1st September.” They can claim this until their child turns 16.


By cultivating a supportive environment where parents can thrive, your business will retain existing staff and attract new talent.

Here at Distinct, our recruitment specialists can advise you on what benefits employees really want. Contact our Nottingham office today to discuss the current market further.

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