From the TUC

Gingerbread calls on political parties to fill the holiday childcare blind-spot

05 Sep 2014, by Guest in Society & Welfare

The summer holidays are now over and for many parents this will bring some relief from the desperate scrabble to find that all-elusive holiday childcare. The latest research from the Family and Childcare Trust has shown that provision of holiday childcare has halved since 2009 whilst costs have risen by over 15 per cent. For the 13 weeks of the year when the school gates are shut, parents are being pushed to find new and often quite extreme methods for ensuring their children are looked after whilst they continue to earn a living.

That the national pool of affordable childcare spaces is becoming increasingly dry is a problem that has not gone unnoticed by politicians. All parties have pledged to do more to help families meet the costs of childcare – from the Coalition’s tax-free childcare scheme for working families to Labour’s recent commitment to increase the early years education offer for 3 and 4 year-olds from 15 to 25 hours per week. These are welcome commitments and it has been encouraging to see the issue of childcare raised up the political agenda to such an extent in recent months.

Gingerbread are concerned however that in the dash to offer solutions to the childcare crunch, politicians have been overlooking a significant blind-spot: holiday childcare.

Finding decent, affordable childcare during the school holidays presents parents with its own unique set of challenges, compounded by the fact that the free early year’s education offer for three and four year-olds is only available during term-time.

While this can create huge difficulties for couple parents single parents cannot rely on the “shift-parenting” patterns that couples often depend on where they split annual leave or divide responsibility for picking-up and dropping-off children at childcare. It’s also much more difficult to afford childcare from one salary rather than two, meaning that the rising costs of childcare have been hitting single parents particularly hard.

These experiences were borne-out in a survey we have just carried out of our single parent members and supporters in which we asked them to tell us about their experiences of finding holiday childcare during the summer. The stories they told us of the lengths that they had to go to to ensure their children were looked after was both inspiring and, in some cases, quite startling.

One in three had to cut back spending on household essentials like food and bills just to pay for childcare over the summer. One-third had to reduce their working hours and more than one in five had to take unpaid leave. Many had to take out loans. Some even reported having to send their children away to be with friends and family for the whole six weeks.

It is precisely because of stories like these that Gingerbread has today launched a campaign calling on all the political parties to develop dedicated holiday childcare proposals to help relieve these pressures. These strategies will not only need to address the immediate difficulties that parents face in tracking-down holiday childcare – that it is expensive and in short-supply – but will also need to take a holistic approach and address some of the wider issues exacerbating these problems. We’re recommending in particular that parties:

  • Work with employers to improve the availability of flexible working – helping parents stay in work during the holidays whilst finding the time necessary to look after their children.
  • Consider the potential for using school buildings as childcare facilities, and supporting schools that are willing and able to provide childcare during the holiday season.
  • Ensure that holiday childcare pressures are taken into account by the Jobcentre’s job-search regime so that advisors consider the availability of local childcare when setting expectations for parents’ ability to find and take up work during the holidays.
  • Consider how to support local authorities affected by funding cuts in increasing the capacity of holiday childcare in their local area.

By bringing all these proposals together we think the political parties have a fantastic opportunity to develop a genuinely effective and year-round solution to the childcare challenge – and to help ease the huge holiday childcare burden currently weighing down on parents.