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Women's experiences of childcare shared through our survey

This is the second blog in our series by Heather Williams looking at what women told us earlier this year when we conducted a survey to find out more about their local public spending priorities, impact of the cost of living crisis and experiences of child and social care.

We heard from women in every local authority area in Scotland. 425 women responded to the survey with a range of life experiences.

Impact of childcare

Our survey showed the disparity in responsibility for childcare arrangements with over 80% of women who responded having made some change to their paid work arrangements to manage childcare arrangements while less than 40% of their partners made any changes.

Women told us that in order to manage childcare that they had to make changes as follows:

Women told us that having to juggle work and childcare impacts on the paid work they can do (58.12%), has affected their physical health (26.25%), impacted on their mental health (55.62%) and on their financial wellbeing (51.25%)

‘I have 2 children with no family network close by to help with childcare. There is a lack of availability around care that is affordable. The only provider to offer this requires a 52 week of the year contract with a minimum number of days a week - ie you must take a 3 day week contract for 52 weeks even if you only need 2 days term time. The hours of childcare do not accommodate shift work and I have had to move jobs as my employer at that time offered no flexibility - I was unable to finish work at 5pm and rely on public transport to ensure my child was collected by 5.30pm. I also am unable to take work with an earlier start due to the lack of childcare before 8am.’

‘The high cost of childcare means I can only send my 2 year old to nursery 2 days a week this results in less time to do paid work and less time to manage the household effectively.’

‘I have struggled to find work due to be unable to afford private childcare and the funded childcare available to me not being flexible and employers expecting people to be fully flexible and work different hours each week.’

‘I am the only adult in the household so all childcare responsibility is on me, this is very detrimental to my health and well-being at times. Especially during school holidays. I find I use all of my entitled Annual leave purely for child care.’

‘I am constantly having to try to swap shifts to manage my childcare months in advance to work around family schedules. It is predominantly myself that this affects as it seems to be that as the female I am responsible for this. I have already had to change job once due to childcare issues and I am now going to have to change jobs again due to childcare. It is very stressful, impacting on my emotional well-being, my stress, my general health, my job prospects as since I have had a child I cannot stay anywhere long enough to progress and therefore also my self-esteem.’

We asked women about their experiences of accessing the 1140 hours free childcare for over 3’s, 41 of those who responded were entitled to access this, of these 29 were able to access the hours and 12 weren’t, this was primarily due to hours of availability not matching hours of work.

We asked those who were able to access the free hours how well it met their needs and for more than 2/3rds of those entitled to these hours the way these are delivered in their local area does not cover their childcare requirements, again this was due to a lack of flexibility in delivery.

‘We have been able to access these hours since August and it has made a huge difference to our budget. We are only able to use our full provision in a council nursery because of family support and flexible employers and this means that we do not pay any charges for our youngest child this year. We were entitled to the hours from August 2020, but in the year 2020/21 we were unable to access our full provision in a council nursery, and had to pay significant top up fees to have our child in a private nursery two days a weeks to cover our working hours and in fact because of the way private nurseries calculate their charges we were paying for 2-3 hours of provision that we did not need every day that our child was in nursery. I don't think the council really understand the financial implications for parents of using their hours in a private setting. It's good to have the flexibility to choose that option, but there needs to be the option to put your child in a setting that does not attract additional charges too. I'd like to see council settings moving toward greater flexibility in the hours they operate. At the moment ours operates 8.45-2.45 and we can only make that work for us because we are working from home/have flexible employers/have family support.’

‘We get two regular days but additional hours are made up by ad hoc days which doesn’t allow me to work more hours regularly. School hours are such that we need to pick our older child up from school so can’t work during hours available at nursery.’

‘I'd prefer to have more flexibility in how we use the hours without attracting additional costs. The 30 hours are sufficient to cover the hours that my partner and I both work, but because of the fixed times when we are able to access them we still rely on family to provide wrap-around care two days per week.’

‘Hours are very ridged and do not cover full year round as some nurseries do not operate as 52weeks. If I choose to work I would still have to pay some fees and once this is added onto all other expenses in life it really has a huge impact on overall health and well-being of both the adult and the child.’

‘My son is due to start council school nursery next week however despite me applying for a morning space Monday to Friday he has only been offered afternoons Monday to Friday meaning I cannot get a job starting work before 2pm and cannot work later than 6pm due to lack of childcare however if I had morning nursery I could mornings while he is at nursery and afternoons when my mum is finished work and able to help.’

The commitment to provide 1140 hours of childcare to over 3s helps many women to undertake paid work and addresses the barrier this can create for many. However the lack of capacity in some areas, a lack of flexibility in how this is provided and a lack of wrap around care leaves many gaps that are often filled by other women providing unpaid care.

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