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Mega survey of UK parents shows that childcare is failing families

96% of British parents say the government isn’t supporting them enough with childcare.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Sep 30, 2021


A survey of over 20,000 parents in the UK, run by Mumsnet in partnership with a coalition of parenting and campaigning groups, offers stark and sobering insights into the catastrophic impacts of childcare costs on the lives of parents - particularly mothers - and children.

Working with Pregnant Then Screwed, the TUC, the Fawcett Society, the Women’s Budget Group, Gingerbread, Working Families, the Fatherhood Institute and Maternity Action, the survey asked parents in the UK with children aged under 18 to share their experiences of using childcare. Of all respondents:

  • 97% said that UK childcare is too expensive (83% said that it is ‘much’ too expensive); and

  • 96% said the UK government doesn’t support parents enough with the cost and availability of childcare.


For more tables, click here.

One third (33%) of parents using childcare say their childcare payments are bigger than their rent or mortgage. (This rises to 47% of those with a Black ethnic background, 42% of those receiving Universal Credit, 40% of the under-30s, 38% of single parents, and 38% of those who work full time.)

50% of parents who used childcare said that paying for it had either had a significant impact on their family’s standard of living, or was just completely unaffordable; this rises to 63% of single parents.

  • 40% (and 53% of parents under 30) say childcare costs mean they don’t spend as much time together as a family as they’d like, because of the need to work longer hours or do shift work.

  • 29% (and 52% of those receiving Universal Credit) say they’ve taken no holidays away from home at all as a direct result of childcare costs.

  • 28% (and 40% of single parents) say they’ve had to use credit cards or credit arrangements to pay for essential items.

  • 12% (34% of those with a household income of less than £20,000) say they’ve had to cut back on essential items, including food and housing, as a direct result of childcare costs.

  • 62% of parents who are using childcare say that as a direct result of childcare costs they have cut back on non-essentials, such as presents and treats.

94% of parents who changed their working patterns after having children say childcare costs were a factor in that decision, and 73% said they had had difficulty finding appropriate childcare that met their needs (including 83% of C2DE parents, 80% of single parents and 80% of those with a BAME background).

66% of women who were in paid employment when they became pregnant had reduced their working hours since becoming a parent, compared with just 26% of men who were in paid employment when they became a parent.

  • 82% of mothers (and 56% of fathers) say ‘I think I would have attained more seniority in my work, or earned more, if I had not had childcare considerations’.

  • 46% of women who were in paid employment when they became pregnant said they had since not applied for a promotion that they would have applied for if they weren’t a parent. The same held true for 22% of men who were in paid employment when they became a parent.

  • 16% of mothers, and 42% of fathers, say childcare responsibilities have not affected their seniority at work.

  • 83% of mothers think that difficulties with childcare costs and availability affect mothers more than fathers; 41% of fathers think these things affect parents equally.

Unsurprisingly, parents are looking for radical solutions to the childcare crisis:

  • 94% of all parents believe that subsidised childcare should start from the end of paid maternity leave, and 90% think there should be taxpayer-funded subsidised childcare from when a child is 9 months old.

  • 90% of all parents support at least three months of ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ parental leave for fathers, paid at at least minimum wage level.

  • 84% support a duty on large employers to provide subsidised childcare.

  • 83% support universal free childcare (covering the full working day, for all pre-school children and all children with ongoing Health and Social Care needs), funded by the taxpayer.

  • 82% support tax-funded subsidised childcare covering the full working day, for all pre-school children, with subsidy levels dependent on household income.

  • 59% support a Universal Basic Income for all UK adults.

68% of parents say Shared Parental Leave has not been helpful for their family, or that they don’t understand it. However men are much more likely to say it’s been helpful, with 36% of dads saying it helped their family, compared with 16% of mothers.

Almost 100% (99%) of all parents agree that childcare should be recognised as a vital part of our economic and social infrastructure, and invested in accordingly.

56% of parents who use childcare of any type say they use grandparents as a form of childcare, making grandparents the second-most common form of childcare in the UK after private nurseries (used by 75% of parents).

Mumsnet Founder Justine Roberts said:

At Mumsnet we’ve known for a long time that UK childcare is causing huge problems for families and mothers, but even so we were surprised by how stark these results are. The burden of childcare costs falls heavily on the shoulders of those who can least afford it, and it’s shameful to see that families are going without essential food or falling into debt to meet nursery bills. Across the piece, single parents, those from Black backgrounds, and younger parents are all struggling even more than the average parent - and, as always, mothers are paying the price much more than fathers are, both literally and figuratively. Parents have shown that they are ready for a radical shake-up. Now it’s time for the government to listen and to invest in childcare as the essential infrastructure that it is.

For a release specifically about the impacts on low-income families, read this press release: "16% of parents on low incomes say childcare costs force them to use food banks"

Survey of 20,046 parents in the UK with at least one child aged 18 or under, between 20th July and 31st August 2021. The data is not weighted. You can view the full set of data here.

Survey written and distributed in partnership with Pregnant Then Screwed, the TUC, the Fawcett Society, the Women’s Budget Group, Gingerbread, Working Families, the Fatherhood Institute and Maternity Action, with further distribution assistance from Music Football Fatherhood, Mother Pukka, Tova Leigh, Black Mums Upfront, The Young Women’s Trust, and Cathy Reay (That Single Mum).