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PhD and childcare

(42 Posts)
agnesrose86 Mon 25-Apr-16 20:41:20

I am starting a full time funded PhD in October. I have 3 young children and worrying about how I am going to afford childcare. My bursary is tax free so does that mean that HMRC won't class me as 'working'? In which case, I presumably won't be entitled to the 30 hours free childcare or tax free childcare due to be introduced next year? If anyone could share their knowledge or experience it would be much appreciated.

VegasIsBest Mon 25-Apr-16 20:43:10

Does your University have a student finance centre? They should be able to advise you.

Well done on getting admitted to the PhD. What will you be focusing on?

agnesrose86 Mon 25-Apr-16 20:51:29

I contacted the student finance department and they were unbelievably unhelpful, when I asked if the university had a nursery or any funding available for childcare, they said something along the lines of "it's not the university's responsibility to pick up the government's shortfall"

hayita Tue 26-Apr-16 08:00:35

You don't need to be working to get the 15 hours of free childcare for over 3s (hours to be increased next year). Since you are not paying tax you indeed cannot access childcare voucher schemes. Undergraduates can get childcare grants from the government but not postgraduate students. If however your family receives child tax credits you may be eligible for help towards daycare, but the university does not deal with this - you would have to look through

to determine eligibility.

Universities typically do have nurseries but these are very over-subscribed and usually not that much cheaper than other nurseries in the area. (After all, the staff still have to be paid at the same rates as in other nurseries.)

I'm not really sure why you would expect the university to fund or subsidise your childcare? Where would they get the money from to pay the nursery staff?

BTW I'm a working mother who is a senior academic. For years I took home far less money than a PhD student's stipend after paying for full-time daycare/wrap around care for school. Female colleagues often drop to part-time when they have young children as they can't afford daycare. People often delay doing their PhDs until their children are bit older so that daycare costs are less. PhD students with young children may rely on family help to reduce daycare costs. Unfortunately childcare is expensive and there is no magic pot of money to pay for it for all those who need it.

agnesrose86 Tue 26-Apr-16 08:52:08

I totally take on all of your points. I guess I am just frustrated because the only reason I can do the PhD is because it is funded so I will be treating it like a full time job yet in the eyes of HMRC I am a SAHM. It's still not entirely clear (conflicting info online) who will be eligible for tax free childcare but if this included full time students as well as those working 16 hours a week or more, that would be great. I accept that I should pay for childcare but I don't believe it should be prohibitively expensive.

BikeRunSki Tue 26-Apr-16 08:58:54

I accept that I should pay for childcare but I don't believe it should be prohibitively expensive

Said every working/studying parent ever.

unlucky83 Tue 26-Apr-16 09:21:47

I paid full time childcare for my DD1 from my stipend. I was pregnant when I started my Phd and got 4 months maternity (went back part time at 3 months for 2 months) so it was expensive baby childcare. When she got to 2 (and out of nappies) she could have gone to the university nursery but it was only open during term time and as a Phd student you don't just work during term time. I think they have improved since then though. And I was told you could apply for the hardship fund or for a grant towards costs, but never needed to.
DP had a restaurant so worked long hours and couldn't pick up any slack so I had to keep her in private nursery. Even when you get your funding at 3 here (in Scotland) it was only 2.5hr a day (now 3hr h10min) and term time only - so for 38 weeks a year - it wasn't actually that much cheaper. I'd finished studying and had a position by the time she started school -but found childcare then a lot harder - with earlier finishes and difficulty covering holidays (didn't have any family or friends around) - childminders here take 6 -8 weeks holiday a year was the reason I gave up working. But my field was really competitive, people didn't take all their holiday allowance ...I just couldn't compete.

hayita Tue 26-Apr-16 09:30:52

* I accept that I should pay for childcare but I don't believe it should be prohibitively expensive.*

But the main cost is staff salaries which cannot be reduced, as nursery staff salaries are already low.

Presumably your family could manage financially if you were a SAHM (if this is the status quo). Then it is your family's choice for you to do the PhD. Even if you had a taxed salary equivalent to the tax-free stipend, childcare costs might well be prohibitive and prevent you from going back to work until they were older - many mothers of 3 young children simply cannot afford to work full-time, even with vouchers or tax-free childcare. Where I live one would need a gross salary of around 50k to pay for full-time childcare for 2 preschool children.

Yet if the state subsidised childcare, as they do in Scandinavian countries, then people would have to be prepared to pay a lot more tax to fund this. Tax rates of 50-55% on middle incomes are not uncommon in Scandinavia.

I'm not being unsympathetic - having paid childcare costs for many years, I understand how difficult it is. But there is no easy solution for funding childcare.

googlepoodle Thu 28-Apr-16 02:51:15

Could you consider doing the PhD 4 days per week and extending the term of it. Then if your partner could do the same then you would only need three days childcare per week. You'd see more of the children as well.

jclm Fri 29-Apr-16 13:11:12

I am sympathetic to your predicament and it is one that most mothers of small children are in. I am an academic and childcare costs were one of the reasons I had to give up working. Now I've had a few years 'out', it seems impossible to get back in, so now I'm looking at a complete career change :-(

Btw, why are you doing a PhD if you don't mind me asking? I would not recommend a career path into academia at the moment due to the shortage of permanent posts and the requirement (for most) to be geographically mobile. If you're doing it as part of an already existing job/career, then that is a much better strategy.

Some other ideas re childcare for you to consider:

- is getting an au pair feasible? You'd need a spare room and about £70 per week for her pocket money. She would be able to do a few hours with your older child per day, and some light cleaning. I mention this because it is the cheapest form of childcare, and you could use it in conjunction with a nursery or childminder.

- hiring a nanny is often cheaper than a nursery when you have three children. The nanny can also look after children when they are poorly. If you had a live-in nanny you could pay her a little less.

- phone up student finance again and ask them if there are any pots of other funding you could tap into? Eg hardship loans or funds etc. These may be small pots though.

- how old are your children? Would it be more financially feasible to wait a year (if they can hold the PhD start date) until your oldest child is in full time school?

justjuanmorebeer Thu 05-May-16 12:02:12

Hello. I am also starting a PhD in Oct and have researched this extensively so I hope I am able to help you.

Are you a single parent? If so this is relevant if you are not, it still applies if your partner is working too earning under the WTC threshold for three children.

Under the current system (tax credits) any money received as part of a tax free bursary or stipend is NOT counted as income for TC purposes by HMRC.

However as you know, as a PhD student you are NOT classed as an employee but a student. If you are not working and just earning your stipend then you will still be entitled to claim CTC but not WORKING TC. To receive childcare help you must get WTC (known as the childcare element and they pay up to 70% on a sliding scale depending on level of income).

Your best (financial) plan possible would be to work 16hrs per week term time only (tc consider this too count for every week throughout the year as long as it is a perm contract) alongside your PhD. This will obviously be HARD but financially you should be ok.

In this situation you would have your earnings from your 16hr a week job, wtc and ctc and you would keep all of your stipend with no deductions as it is not taxable income. So assuming your stipend is the basic level like mine this means £1191 per month kept without affecting your tax creds. Would this cover your childcare costs for 3 kids?

In terms of other benefit income, housing benefit DO take every penny of stipends into account so you would not get this to help towards rent, if you are a tenant.

For the majority of local authorities PhD students DO qualify for council tax relief but some place restrictions on writing up so you would only be exempt for year one and two of your PhD. You have to be registered full time to be exempt.

In the situation that you did find a 16hrs a week term time job then you will probably be breaking the terms of your PhD contract. How much of a problem that is depends where you are. I was honest in my interview about having to work throughout to keep a roof over our head and the supervisors were very supportive. Here is what my institution say on this :

- officially PhD students are not supposed to engage in paid work exceeding 6 hours a week (average over 52 weeks) this means paid work for your university.

- PhD students are responsible for their own time and workload and use their discretion to decide if outside work would impact their study or not.

- We have absolutely no way of officially checking up whether you are working elsewhere and for how many hours.

So, in my situation, apply common sense. As a single parent who has been studying full time whilst working full time for seven years I am used to working at night so know I can make it work at least for semesters 1 and 2 of year 1.

After this I will reassess and if I can't do it then will have to either move to cheaper accomodation or go part time.

justjuanmorebeer Thu 05-May-16 12:06:43

Also, yes you are correct university finance offices NEVER know about these things. I have found these answers through my own research over a year.

Completely forgot to say that the above is all well and good ONLY until universal credit comes in. Under UC they take every penny as income even if non taxable so you would unlikely be entitled to any help once the transition has happened in your area.

agnesrose86 Tue 28-Jun-16 19:01:24

Many thanks justjuan. I am coming to the conclusion that trying to work 16 hours a week might be my best solution.

I have always worked other than when on maternity leave so my family does rely on my income.

My supervisor says she will try and get me as much teaching work as possible which might be enough to see me through.

It's mainly my first year that is going to be hard as my youngest is too little to go to playgroup so my childcare costs are around £240 a week at the moment.

justjuanmorebeer Wed 29-Jun-16 18:05:11

It will be hard but you can do it. I'm in quite a similar boat from October so feel free to pm me any time

justjuanmorebeer Wed 29-Jun-16 18:12:34

It is also worth saying that those 16 hours a week can be doing anything as long as you are earning above minimum wage. So whether you are doing x amount of hourly paid teaching hours or working for a few quid in a cafe, it all counts. Obviously it is best to get highly paid work such as teaching but the upside of a hospitality or retail job is that you won't take your work home with you so your headspace can concentrate on your PhD and family commitments.

user1465823522 Wed 29-Jun-16 18:49:31

Talk to the finance office at your uni - honestly they are the best people to advise you., When I did mine i only had one baby and there was on site childcare - not free, but it wasn't terribly expensive. This was quite a few years ago mind and I'm sure there are other options now.

That said, how is your PhD structured? I only saw my tutor a handful of times a month and was able to work at home in my own time - which meant I could work at night etc - I understand that's not possible with all courses though

justjuanmorebeer Wed 29-Jun-16 19:47:40

I have studied at four universities and never had an experience where student support knew up to date advice for student parents! Whether this is because we are a minority or because policy and provision keeps changing I am not sure but it is very frustrating.

mamamma Thu 13-Jul-17 11:52:43

@justjuanmorebeer I would be starting a full funded PhD in September. And all you highlighted is dawning on me and so like you suggested, I believe the best option is to get a 16 hours job. I do have a full time job now and I would be discussing with them on making it part time (if possible) but unfortunately it may also mean term time working.

To the question how have you found it so far? and is there any moe advice you may give. I have 3 kids with one just 7 months old, 1 in full time education and another 2 year old so need childcare for 2

Leatherboundanddown Thu 20-Jul-17 09:11:46

I'll be honest, it hasn't worked well at all. I haven't had a day off since Christmas and I am verging on a breakdown. I have now quit my job and am moving into a cheaper rented place soon. My finances are screwed and I am broke right now.

My PhD has completely suffered with the stress of it all. I'm appriaching upgrade but don't think I'm going to get through.

mamamma Thu 20-Jul-17 09:45:43

Thanks for the reply. its a shame its not going so well, I wonder why the government seem to neglect postgraduate students given that in the long run we may contribute more to the economy.
I would just have to give it a go - actually have nothing to loose for now. Hope it all goes well for you

Leatherboundanddown Thu 20-Jul-17 10:11:29

Thank you. I think the relentlessness of being a single parent is totally hard enough without adding a full time PhD into the job then working the entire weekend. I will try and continue with my PhD, I do want to. I just need to make some big changes to my life to enable that to happen.

I thought I was prepared and invincible but was completely unprepared for how much your PhD workload is just ALL consuming. There is no space for anything in my head if I want to do it to the required standard. it is very hard.

Louar Mon 30-Oct-17 10:09:56

Hi All

I'm in the same position here with earnings (stipend) that meet the income criteria for 30 hours of childcare BUT this isn't counted. My family are not eligible for any other childcare support as my partner earns over 'entitlement' thresholds.

I understand the comments from academics and students from past cohorts. However, to ensure equality of opportunity in academia/the country there has to be a level playing field and this is not the case with the new scheme (which is a great improvement if you meet the criteria), this is where the issue lies.

I am in touch with my MP, NUS, university and government funding agency to highlight the gap. I have just received a response from the minister basically saying 'no one thought about this during consultation so it's too late'. The NUS and my MP are both continuing to raise this as an issue however and so I am hopeful that with continuing examples and pressure the issue can be addressed adequately.

If anyone else in the same position is keen to highlight this issue with their university, MP, NUS, government ministers it would be great. I have started the ball rolling but alone my voice is quiet. I would be very happy to help coordinate a group letter if anyone else would like to join forces or to provide my email examples that capture the issues.

All the best and I hope those of you juggling work and a PhD don't burn out.


mamamma Sun 12-Nov-17 18:54:00

Hi Lou,

I am interested in joining you on this. Please pm me your email address. Thanks

PeteMe Sun 12-Nov-17 21:13:15

Hi @Louar

I emailed the government too about this a year or two ago, before the scheme was finalised and didn't get a response. I'd be happy to sign the letter and promote it as it affected me too (and it is really really unfair!)

PeteMe Sun 12-Nov-17 21:17:04

Just digged up my emails, and I emailed my MP in 2015 to raise this in parliament, when the bill was being discussed in the house of lords (before it came to parliament). It is a huge shame she didn't bother replying or raising this issue.

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