Childcare costs: survey by Mumsnet and the Resolution Foundation

Two in three mothers say high cost of childcare is a barrier to work


child at nurseryAround two-thirds of mothers say the cost of childcare is an obstacle to them working more, according to a new report.

In a survey conducted by independent think tank Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet, 67% of mothers in work and 64% of those not working said the high cost of childcare is a barrier to taking on more employment.

Well over a third (37%) of stay-at-home mothers said they would like to work and would hope to do an average of 23 hours a week. And one in five (20%) of mothers already in employment would like to take on more work - an extra 10 hours a week on average.

Among mothers already working, those on lower earnings were more likely to want to take on more hours. The average earnings of those who would like to work more (approximately £13,000 a year) were less than half of those who would not (approximately £29,000).

The results come from a survey of nearly 2,000 mothers with children under 10. Respondents were asked about their family make-up, income, childcare arrangements, work preferences and the barriers to work created by childcare - as well as how some of these might change under a different system of childcare support.

The report is the first step towards understanding how different systems of childcare support may affect mothers' choices in the labour market, with the current cost of childcare a clear barrier to work for many. The report also analyses OECD data to show that the UK lags behind some other western economies on rates of maternal employment: about 67% of mothers are in some form of paid work, compared with 86% per cent in the best performer, Slovenia. The UK also comes behind Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland.

This relatively low employment rate is a concern, particularly for lower income households, as the risk of poverty for children in families with only one earner is much higher than for those in dual-earner families. There are approximately 5.5m working mothers of dependent children across the UK, and 2.9m mothers who do not work.

The report's other findings include:

  • resolution reportChildcare costs are named as the biggest single obstacle to more work by more than four in 10 mothers (42% of those in work and 41% of those not working)
  • For working mothers, the next most common barrier to more work is employers being unable or unwilling to offer more hours (cited by 17%). The report also shows that nations with the best maternal employment rates are more likely than UK employers to offer flexible work options, including the ability to set some of your own hours or to use accumulated hours to earn leave days
  • A significant number of mothers (14% of working and 15% of those not working) said that wanting to stay with their children was their primary reason for not working, or not working longer
  • Any extension to childcare support would be popular with mothers. A large majority of both working and non-working mothers say they would take up an increase in the entitlement to free hours (currently 15 hours a week for 3- and 4-year-olds) or more money from the childcare element of the working tax credit - and that both would enable them to take on more work. This suggests that while mothers are looking for further help, they do not particularly favour any one type of support
  • Although the cost of childcare is a frequent barrier to work, a large minority of respondents (43%) said they would work even if it did not leave the household any better off


Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet, said:

"The cost of childcare is clearly proving a real barrier to women working. It's time to start thinking of childcare as infrastructure to the economy in the same way as we think about transport or technology. Enabling women who want to work or who want to work more hours to do so, brings real financial benefits to their own family income and also to the wider economy." 


Vidhya Alakeson, deputy chief executive of the Resolution Foundation and author of the report, said:

"A mother being able to work, or to work longer hours, can often be the factor that lifts a family out of poverty and this report shows that many mums want to do exactly that. The problem is that we do worse than several other countries on maternal employment  - especially for single mothers and mothers of three-to-five year olds - which is precisely the group where most childcare support is being targeted.

"That suggests that not enough is being done to help women with children to take on more work if they want to, especially with regard to reducing the costs of childcare and improving working flexibility. It's especially worrying that current plans to reform childcare direct more support to better-off parents when it is the less well-off who would benefit most and, at the same time, save money from the public purse by taking on more work."


resolution foundation

Careers and Carers: childcare and maternal labour supply by Giselle Cory and Vidhya Alakeson, is published by the Resolution Foundation and will be available online at

Last updated: about 4 years ago