One in six parents has had to reduce their working hours because of difficulty accessing childcare.
According to the Early Years Alliance, which represents childcare providers, difficulty accessing early years provision has left more than a quarter of parents with children under 5 struggling to balance work and childcare.
Some of those who experienced difficulty in accessing childcare had been placed on furlough, felt unable to return to their physical workplace, or had missed out on promotion opportunities.
Women and single parents were the most likely to be adversely affected by limited childcare provision: single parents were twice as likely to be forced to change jobs or leave work entirely to care for their children (11%) than dual parent households (6%), and 92% of the 3,000 parents who responded to the survey were women, suggesting childcare issues continued to affect them.
Parents had also been affected by closures of childcare settings during the pandemic. Those who previously attended a setting that had permanently closed (7%) often found it challenging to secure an alternative, with just one in three (29%) saying it was easy to find a new setting.
The Early Years Alliance said it had repeatedly asked the government to carry to a full review of early years spending, and said it should do so ahead of the spending review this autumn.
Chief executive Neil Leitch said: “This government has repeatedly told the public it is on the side of working families, but cuts to crucial early care and education tell a different story. Early years settings deliver vital learning and development opportunities to young children, but also provide the quality childcare that parents rely on to work, bring in additional income and further their careers.
“With budgets becoming ever tighter in the face of rising costs and stagnant funding, many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders have been forced to make tough decisions about the days, hours, and flexibility they can offer. As our survey shows, this in turn is forcing parents to make their own difficult choices about their working lives. For settings and families in more deprived areas, these challenges are even more acute.”
The survey of more than 3,000 parents also found that:
- 36% of parents had experienced difficulties in accessing childcare, with almost half of those reporting that it had negatively affected their mental health
- Parents who had to cut their working hours saw their average number of working hours reduce by 41%, from 36.7 to just 21.7 per week
- Parents in deprived areas were 22% more likely to say they were struggling, with 80% saying government is not doing enough to help them access affordable, accessible childcare
- 33% of parents who did not access formal childcare said they would like to but cannot. 88% of the respondents in this group said cost was a barrier.
One parent said: “My stress levels are higher due to having to balance work and looking after my son at the same time, I am constantly worried about not meeting my job commitments and deadlines.”
Leitch said: “We have seen the government documents: ministers are fully aware that early years underfunding is driving up childcare costs – and that this is keeping parents, and especially mothers out of the workplace – and yet they continue to insist that all is fine and refuse to even review what is clearly a broken system.
“We urge the government to seize the opportunity of the spending review this autumn to finally show it has the interests of children and families at heart, something it is yet to demonstrate in any meaningful way.”