As school summer holidays start, many parents are facing the challenge of finding suitable childcare at an affordable cost. STEF HALL looks at the issue.
A few years ago Gill Mason was holding down a busy marketing job at a Lancashire college.
But when her two daughters came along, she became one of thousands of professional women who have to abandon their career due to the childcare pressures.
Gill, from Great Eccleston, said: “ We are in the minority in that we cannot fully rely on grandparents to help out, though they help where they can.
“Childcare was literally ruling our lives.
“I had a really good job in marketing at Preston College but there was absolutely no way I could have kept those hours, along with the commute when we moved to our current home in Preesall, and the childcare fees.
Most parents we work with do not work. Some are in a position where it is cheaper to stay at home than to have to pay for holiday childcare
“Along with the childcare itself are all the extras no one seems to consider such as dentist and doctors appointments, haircuts, housework and keeping on top of things.
“We’re in that horrid mid stream where we earn too much to qualify for any help or benefits, but aren’t well off enough for one of us not to work and look after the children.
“As a woman you also feel torn - you want to show your children the benefits of working hard, because morally you want them to do well, especially when you’re educated and have gone through a lot to get where you are.
“There needs to be a change.”
Facing increasing struggles to find adequate, affordable and work hour friendly holiday care for her young family, Gill sat down with her husband Graham, a lecturer at Blackpool’s HE Centre, to discuss their options.
He backed the idea of Gill having a go at launching her own business in which she could work around their childcare issues, and so dog walking service Peachy Pooches was born.
Gill now has around 22 doggy clients on her books and can work in the holidays as she can bring her daughters out on walks with her.
According to research by the national childcare charity Daycare Trust - now known as the Family and Childcare Trust, finding affordable childcare during the summer break is one of the biggest headaches for parents.
The costs and shortage of places can be overwhelming, and leads to parents taking unpaid leave or using the bulk of their annual holiday entitlement, and facing dire financial consequences.
Angela Melling, from Central Lancashire Homestart, explains: “ We find it comes to the holidays and suddenly parents have to feed and entertain the whole family all day.
“We know some parents go without food, or the whole family might skip a meal.
“The government is constantly cutting funding for organisations that support parents and that educate them to budget appropriately.
“This is sad in modern day Lancashire.
“ If families are only just managing financially when the kids are at school then they aren’t going to manage in the holidays.
“Most parents we work with do not work. Some are in a position where it is cheaper to stay at home than to have to pay for holiday childcare.
“The government could help by bringing in more affordable play schemes and by dedicating funding to educating people how to budget the little money they have.
“Financial challenges can have knock on effects to society further down the line such as triggering mental health problems.
“Early intervention is the key.”
Single parent charity Gingerbread has previously warned families struggling to make work pay have a long wait ahead for extra childcare support pledged by government.
Dalia Ben-Galim, director of policy, said: “The majority of single parents are in work, but many feel the pinch – or are locked out of the jobs market entirely – due to high childcare costs.
“This is especially noticeable during the holiday period.
“Gingerbread often hears from single parents who sadly find themselves facing eye-watering childcare costs at this time of year.”
Grandparents are often the best solution to summer childcare. It’s estimated they provide 1.7 billion hours of childcare every year for more than 1.5 million grandchildren.
But it isn’t an option for bereaved families or those with non retired grandparents.
“Juggle parenting” sees parents alternate weeks off. It’s hardly a family-friendly solution for families wanting to spend time together, but it means most of the summer holidays are covered.
An increasingly popular choice is “child swapping”, when parents split taking the time off work to look after each other’s children.
The advantages are it’s free, parents get to spend time with children in the holidays without using up all their leave, and the child has a playmate.
Parents of children aged 16 and under have the right to ask their employer for flexible working arrangements, and employers can only reject it if there’s a good business reason.
Families receiving tax credits - an estimated to be 78,400 in central Lancashire and 13,800 in Blackpool’s unitary area - are eligible for help with holiday childcare costs.
Log on to www.familyinformationservice.org.uk for details of local holiday play schemes.
For bigger families an au pair may be more cost-effective - short term nannying contracts are becoming more common, especially for university students during the holidays.