How having children has turned into 'financial suicide' in the UK

Mother's and a child hands
Mother's and a child hands Copyright Canva
By Doloresz Katanich
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The number of parents getting into debt to cover childcare costs in the UK has risen by a third over the past 12 months, according to a new survey.

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There has been a sharp increase in childcare debts that parents are facing in the UK, according to research on behalf of campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed.

In a survey of 35,800 parents in England with a child under the age of five, some 45.9% - almost half - revealed they had to get into debt or withdraw money from their savings to pay for childcare. 

That represented a 30% increase on 2023, the 2024 State of the Nation childcare report found.

The number of single parents in the same category was higher still, with almost two-thirds (66.5%) saying they had to use credit cards, borrow money or tap into their savings or pension to cover the childcare costs. 

Half of parents (53%) with a child under five said they spent more than a quarter of their household income on childcare, a figure up 16% on last year. One in five parents (19.2%) said they spent more than half their household income on childcare.

"Parents who want to have more children cannot afford to do so," said Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed. "Being a parent is tough enough, but when having more children means sacrificing your income, procreation feels like financial suicide. If we aren’t careful, becoming a parent will be a luxury item, and the economy can't afford to pay that price."

The high level of childcare costs has even played a role in leading some women to choose termination over pregnancy. More than half (52.5%) of mothers who had had an abortion revealed the cost of childcare was the primary reason for terminating their pregnancy. 

Returning to work

Some mothers argued that returning to work is not worth it as almost all they earned would go to childcare. 

After our second child was born, she again returned to work, but was forced to quit as she was working at a loss.
Jonathon
Father of two

According to the site Moneyhelper.org.uk the average cost of sending one child under the age of two to nursery for full-time is £14,030 (€16,380) a year. 

"The costs of full-time childcare are broadly equal to the working income of parents who hold minimum-wage jobs," said Jonathon from Lancashire, north of Manchester.

"After the birth of our first child, my wife attempted to return to work. The childcare costs wiped out her entire income. After our second child was born, she again returned to work, but was forced to quit as she was working at a loss, despite receiving funding for the older child and holding a managerial position."

Single parents are facing the hardest choices. "I wish not working was an option, as a sole parent with a child with lifelong medical needs you literally can't win," one mother told Euronews Business about her experience. "I was assigned a social worker by the hospital when I had my son to advise me on how to manage financially when my son was in NICU. Had I not scrimped and scraped and found a way to work, I would have lost my home, my business and have no idea how we would have survived - it was far from plain sailing, but needs must and 17 years later despite horrendous childcare (and other costs) as a sole parent, we are still here to tell the story.

Some mothers who go back to work, may not have done so for the money. 

"When I had my son, putting him in nursery to return to work gave a me a total salary of £150 month! I did go back but because of my own need for community rather than the money," Rachel from Rachel Munt Coaching told Euronews Business.  

We’ve not only got a cost of living crisis, we’ve got a cost of working crisis that disproportionately impacts mothers.
Joeli Brearley
CEO and Founder of Pregnant Then Screwed

Another mother from London decided to turn her difficulties into an opportunity. "My husband had been a stay-at-home dad for a few years. Once we were both working full-time, the school run became impossible - largely due to the cost, quality and availability of childcare," said Rachel, 43, from London who created app We Are Fetching. "I quit my job to build an app that would allow parents to manage wraparound care among their friends and family. It also communicates with the school." 

Cost isn't the only issue

Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed said: "We’ve not only got a cost of living crisis, we’ve got a cost of working crisis that disproportionately impacts mothers."

A third of the parents had to wait more than nine months for a place at a childcare provider while a third (33.6%) of mothers felt unable to return to work full-time because of childcare costs or nursery place availability. That figure compares to 11.9% of fathers. 

Meanwhile, 20% of mothers in England said they were unable to take up a more senior role because of childcare costs and availability - 8.8% of fathers said they were in the same situation. 

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The Government has pledged to cut childcare costs from 1 April but another survey from the same charity found that the majority of parents (70%) say costs have recently increased or are about to increase. 

A third of parents eligible for new childcare funding for 2-year-olds are considering leaving their jobs or reducing work hours due to recent hikes in childcare costs. They say the new funding will save them less than £100 a month. 

Parents need more financial assistance "from the point that maternity/paternity leave ends to prevent them from being forced into leaving existing employment," said Jonathon from Lancashire.

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