As of this week, I am a working mum. After a (mostly) wonderful 50 weeks of maternity leave, returning part time to my career in the NHS will ensure I grow my clinical expertise and upskill our workforce. I also want my son to learn and evolve under the dedicated professionals who look after children in early years settings.
That may sound reasonable enough. But being a working mum is a luxury. Why? Because the phenomenal cost of early years childcare means returning to work for many families simply doesn’t pay. The cost of my son’s provision is a snip under £1000 a month for 3 days per week of nursery. I’m lucky to be in a senior position in the NHS so, in my case, returning to work makes financial sense. But if I was a nurse or therapist earlier in my career, paying a student loan and pension contributions, my take-home wage would be £969 a month for a 3 day week, so less than the cost of nursery. This makes staying at home the more viable option, costing the NHS another skilled clinician.
If a nursery is signed up to the government’s tax-free childcare scheme, then there is the benefit of a 20% top-up from the government to help with costs. But that only applies up to a maximum of £500 every three months. If you’re a junior nurse, for example, that makes you less than £2000 a year better off, which is quickly absorbed by the cost of commuting and professional registration fees. There is some additional help from the age of 3 years for working families, but only for 30 hours a week (6 hours a day) and only during term time. After a three-year break, our junior nurse would have to update their training before they could return to practise.
The Liberal Democrats believe all children should have the right to quality, early years childcare provision, and all parents should be able to return to their careers. That’s why we are committed to funding 35 hours a week of high-quality early years provision for the children of all working parents from 9 months of age, and crediting providers with the true value of what it costs them to care for our infants. As for our public services retaining valuable workers.... well, that’s just a bonus!