Guest post: The Cost of a Child report - 'having kids shouldn't be a luxury'
Today, new research has revealed that families on minimum wage are 18% short of the amount needed for a basic standard of living. Here, MN blogger Catherine Mann argues that parenting must not become the preserve of the rich.
Head in Book
Posted on: Tue 12-Aug-14 12:22:26
(11 comments )
Everyone knows that August is an expensive time to be a parent. Whether it's paying for a holiday away, funding all-day childcare while school is shut, or just buying a round of ice creams on a day out - the break from routine can't help but put additional pressure on the family budget. And that's before you start to restock the uniform drawers.
Research published today, though, shows that it's not just during the summer that parents' purses are feeling the pinch. Families are being hit hard by the double whammy of price rises and a decline in the extent to which the state helps families. And the figures are stark.
In the past two years, the average minimum cost of raising a child has risen by 8%. This means that families working full time at the national minimum wage are 18% short of the amount needed for a minimum standard of living. At 43%, the shortfall for out-of-work families is even greater – and in both cases, lone parents fare far worse than their counterparts in couples.
So what lies behind these increases? No parent will be surprised to hear that food makes up a quarter of the basic cost of raising a child – and the price of food has risen by 25% in the past six years. Keeping warm, clean and dry is necessary for every household, but especially those in which there are small children – and domestic energy bills have gone up by 45% in the same period. There are other, less obvious, increases too. Cuts to public transport in many places have meant that, for the first time, some families, especially those in rural or isolated areas are dependent on having a car or paying taxi fares in order to shop, work and access the services they need.
Critics often scoff at the notion of true poverty in this country, and point to people on low incomes with mobile phones or flat screen televisions as evidence that "they're not really poor." However, in this report, the 'minimum standard of living' is based on the essential items needed for each household type, agreed by a panel of members of the public.
Then, of course there's childcare. If both parents are working - the model which is increasingly being proposed as the best way to boost a family's financial circumstances - then childcare can account for 45% of the cost of raising a child. Together with food and energy, the cost of childcare has soared in the past few years, rising by almost half since 2008, while average wages have increased by just one fifth. Add in a freeze to Child Benefit and a cap on the tax credits which families in work receive to top up their wages, and it's not hard to see why many parents are really struggling to make ends meet.
Critics often scoff at the notion of true poverty in this country, and point to people on low incomes with mobile phones or flat screen televisions as evidence that "they're not really poor." However, in this report, the 'minimum standard of living' is based on the essential items needed for each household type, agreed by a panel of members of the public. The calculation for families on low incomes is dominated by food, clothes and shelter, but also rightly includes those items which are needed in order to have the opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society. Over the course of a childhood, having the money to pay for the occasional trip to the swimming pool, or to buy a small present if invited to a classmate's party isn't a luxury - it allows the child to feel that she matters and that she belongs, something in many ways as fundamental to her development as getting enough to eat.
There is a separate argument to be had about the level and the adequacy (or otherwise) of benefit payments made to those who are out of work for whatever reason. That aside, when the mantra that we hear about changes to the welfare structure is that they are aimed at 'making work pay', surely we need to ensure that it does just that?
"Don't have children if you can't afford them", many will say, as if babies are a consumer choice much like building a conservatory, or going on a cruise, and ignoring the fact that circumstances can change. Of course it has always been more expensive to have children than not, and of course it makes sense for people to be encouraged to live within their means. We seem, though, to be sleepwalking into an era in which having children is becoming an unattainable luxury. If raising a family with some degree of dignity becomes unaffordable for many people, even if they're earning, its more than just individual parents who will pay the price.
By Catherine Mann
I think its the other way round on mumsnet. Lots of people saying they cant afford children/more children and they all have high wages, whereas I live in a poorer area for wages and employment but a very picturesque lovely place and we all seem to have lots of children. We are very lucky in this generation to have as much help as we do get imo.
I agree Melissa.
Maybe reports like this aren't really worth anything as the diversity in choices made for families wrt working, childcare, mortgage, rent, utility bills, education.
you can't really provide a figure for how much income a family needs as all families vary.
I'm not surprised. Dh and I work just above min wage and its a helluva struggle. I suppose it's comforting in a weird way to know that it's not just us. I feel a bit less crazy.
I think 18% is an underestimate - I earn just above minimum wage and it doesn't even cover my rent, let alone the childcare which I have to pay for in order to work (which, although I have grandparent help, still itself costs more than my wages each month), let alone bills, food, clothes (for the kids only - I've not bought any clothes or shoes for me in, literally, years), school trips, etc. etc. Thank god for tax credits, they do literally feed myself and my family - but I still have a shortfall most months - and how long we'll have them for is anyone's guess!
And, just in case anyone is thinking I shouldn't have had children if I can't afford them, I had them when I was in a better paid job and could afford them - then I was made redundant and it took me 6 months just to get the job I have now which is 10p an hour more than minimum wage and is a school-leavers level job, despite the fact I am a graduate with 15 years' experience and a multitude of other qualifications.... And there were 180 applicants for the job... More jobs and a living wage - that's what is needed before government-funded financial assistance is cut!
I can afford children but I don't think people shouldn't have children of they can't afford it. But it's when people on benefits have nine children, that's what annoys me, especially I they've never worked in their life and they're just planning to spend the government's (and our) money.
The argument of whether people should or shouldn't have children is imo completely separate from whether children who have been born should or shouldn't be properly provided for by our supposedly civilised country and be supported to grow into as independent, aspiring, happy, healthy young people and adults.
The argument so often seen on these threads about whether people should have children when they can't afford them is ridiculous at best.
No, having children shouldn't be a luxury, but it isn't and never has been. Throughout history poor people have had children and managed, they may not have the same amount of none essentials and more than basic needs like the richer families, but they survived.
Even without the tax credits and cb most families would manage, they would cut their cloth accordingly.
We are lucky these days to have the financial support we do including free or subsidised childcare, hb, tax credits, jsa etc.
It's definitely become more expensive to raise children in the past few years, especially with all the benefit cuts and price rises. I have a 16yo and I was on income support until she was 10 (around the time they changed the rules) and despite being on benefits and tax credits with no maintenance coming in, we never had to worry about where the next meal was coming from, or whether we could turn on the heating. Our direct debits for gas and electricity combined was £30 a month, and we could afford to take a UK/easyjet holiday once a year. I don't think that would be possible these days. Child benefit/tax credits aren't keeping up with the rising cost of inflation, and those on benefits have to pay something towards council tax these days, whereas I got all mine paid (and full housing benefit as well as I was in council housing).
I don't think that pushing families into work is the solution for everyone, because even if childcare is available, it's not always suitable or good quality, and working conditions can be more precarious with zero hour contracts etc. There will always be some families who need to stay on benefits due to being lone parents, disabilities or lack of jobs, and they should have access to a decent quality of life even if they can't work. There also needs to be more uniformity across the UK - we have free swimming here for all under-16s and also free bus travel, but that's not offered in other towns and it can make life much more expensive.
Couldn't agree with everything you've said more Jalapenokick. I have sadly had talks with both my teenage sons that they should consider not having children in the future in order to have a better quality of life. Of course they may get into careers where they can earn lots of money, but with house prices etc I think increasing numbers of people will feel obliged to not have DCs in the future.
Aubreye how many families on benefits do you actually know that have nine children?
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