Parents are reducing their work hours, taking unpaid leave, or turning down projects, as they can’t find the types of holiday care they need.
As schools break up for the summer this week, many working families are still stuck for how to cover the holidays. Only 27% of English local authorities have enough holiday childcare spaces for the parents in their area who work full-time, down 6% since last year, according to a report published today by the children’s charity Coram. For parents who live in rural areas, work atypical hours, or have children with a disability, this figure drops far lower.
If families do find a childcare space, cost is another issue. A place at a holiday club in England will cost £148 a week this summer on average, a rise of 5% since last year, the Coram report found. As the ongoing cost-of-living crisis pushes up all household bills, such price rises can be particularly hard for many families to bear.
The end result is that many parents have to reduce or halt their work altogether over the summer – and this burden often falls on mothers in particular.
Around four in ten parents will need to take unpaid leave to manage childcare over the summer, according to a survey of 27,000 parents published today by Pregnant Then Screwed, a charity that campaigns for mothers’ rights. Over three-quarters of parents who can’t find enough summer childcare are concerned that this will limit their career prospects in the longer-term, the survey found.
The UK does not provide state-run holiday childcare. Instead the providers are a mix of private companies and individuals, charities, and schools, who all charge parents for this service. During the Covid pandemic many providers either couldn’t operate or saw demand drop sharply, and they have since struggled to regain their footing.
“We have found that quite a significant proportion [have closed] and may not ever re-open,” says Rebekah Jackson Reece at the Out of School Alliance, a membership organisation that represents 1,700 holiday and wraparound childcare providers in England. Some providers have struggled to get back on track this year as parents try to cut childcare bills during the cost-of-living crisis, while others have faced lower demand from parents who continue to work flexibly or remotely post-pandemic.
It is hard to find exact numbers on post-pandemic closures as there is no official register of holiday childcare providers. But English councils had been reporting slightly better availability every year since 2019 before the sudden 6% dip this year, according to previous Coram studies.
Working parents can use the “tax-free childcare” state subsidy, Universal Credit, or child tax credit to help with the costs of Ofsted-registered summer clubs, while families who qualify for free school meals are eligible for some free hours of holiday childcare and food. Some providers, such as King’s Camps, offer free or subsidised places through their own funding models.
In some towns and cities, there might not be less demand for holiday childcare – it might just be that the type of demand has changed.
Lots of parents want to find summer childcare. But they’ve struggled to find clubs with the flexible hours, or extended hours, or short-notice bookings that they need. They’ve also struggled with the fiddly process of arranging holiday care, which often involves going through lists of providers on council websites and contacting them one by one, rather than having a centralised app or booking system.
Jackson Reece at the Out of School Alliance encourages parents to ask local providers if they can cater for requests such as flexible hours. Providers will almost always help if they can, and such requests help their services to evolve. But she acknowledges that working parents are often too busy to explore options in this way.
“If parents are finding it hard to find the thing they’re looking for, what are they looking for? I think we as a sector need to understand that a little bit better. So that’s a piece of work that we need to do. To understand, actually, does childcare need to change?”