Two-thirds (65%) of parents with children aged between two and one say free childcare measures presented in last week’s Spring Budget will encourage them to enter or rejoin the workforce, according to new research by the global hiring platform Indeed.
The UK has some of the highest childcare costs in the world accounting for nearly a third (29%) of a family’s income forcing many parents to reduce their working hours as it makes more financial sense for them to care for their children.
In a bid to lure more parents back to work and reduce economic inactivity, the government pledged 30 hours of free childcare a week for children aged nine months to school age* and a snap survey of 1,000 parents shows promising signs it will help bolster Britain’s workforce.
Overall, 65% of parents who are either employed, unemployed, or on parental leave, said free childcare would encourage them to seek additional working hours, rising to 77% amongst parents who gave up work due to the cost of childcare.
Of those not currently working but are planning to return, nearly half (44%) said they would look for a part-time role compared to 22% of parents who will look for a full-time job.
On average, parents who cut back on work to care for their children plan to work around 26 hours a week compared to 14 hours now, a 78% increase equivalent to an extra 12 hours a week.
Lowest earners to increase working hours the most
Parents earning £15,000 or less said they would plan to double their working week from 12 hours to 24 hours when the scheme is implemented, while those earning £55,000 and above plan to increase their hours from 22 hours to 29 hours a week (a 33% increase).
Women see scheme as a ticket to progress their careers
Alarmingly, 62% of fathers and 81% of mothers not working due to the current cost of childcare say it has caused them to sacrifice their careers.
Over two-fifths (41%) of mothers felt the opportunity to progress their careers was one of the biggest motivators to increase their work hours or go back to work, only 16% of fathers felt similarly.
Other benefits most appealing to those considering a return to work and increasing their hours were: increased household earnings (65%), mental well-being (36%), and a sense of purpose (22%).
Parents still face barriers to work
Despite the free childcare measure, parents still face barriers to increasing their working hours. Of those that said they would not be looking to increase hours or return to work even when they become eligible for free childcare, the most common reasons were: mental health (28%), lack of flexible hours (26%), childcare still too expensive (25%), and a lack of remote work opportunities (19%).
Interestingly, flexible working hours (75%) are far more important than remote working opportunities (43%) to returning parents; an empathetic manager (40%) was also cited as key support for those looking to be eased into more work.
Bill Richards, UK Director at the global hiring platform Indeed said: “Starting or growing a family is a precious time for parents yet balancing childcare and a career is difficult and for many simply unviable. The promise of state support is clearly welcome news for many people keen to get back to work and our research suggests free childcare could make a real impact on bolstering Britain’s workforce.
“The challenge for policymakers is relieving pressures already facing the childcare industry, where gaps in the workforce and retention has long been an issue. Our data shows interest in childcare roles compared to the average job on Indeed declined by 16% compared to their pre-pandemic level and 27% of childcare postings are classified as ‘hard to fill’, which means they remain vacant for 60 days or longer.
“This is a step in the right direction but childcare alone is not a silver bullet that will solve worker shortages and returning workers need more than just financial support to build or rebuild their careers. Parents seek flexibility, empathy and equality from employers and those who prioritise these requirements stand a better chance of attracting parents back to work.”