School's Out For Summer - Now What?

22/07/2016 11:17 | Updated 22 July 2016

For those with children this week marks the end of the school year which brings much excitement to children around the country, but economic worry to many of those parents who struggle to find places and even to afford holiday childcare over the next six weeks.  This is an ongoing problem that every year about this time the media delves into without any resolution aside from publishing a few sound bytes from politicians who promise to change this situation which seems to be on permanent "rinse and repeat" mode.  The BBC even ran a story this week with the alarming title: "Summer childcare costs 'may leave children home alone."  This article's heading, sadly, did not ignite humorous images of Macaulay Culkin's infamous cheek smacking scenes from the similarly entitled film, but rather drew concerns from several government officials and local charities.

Rebecca Griffin, Head of Communications and Campaigns at the Family and Childcare Trust, notes that "88 percent of local authorities in England, 78 per cent in Scotland and 100 per cent in Wales report that they do not have enough holiday childcare to meet demand."  Griffin continues, "And for the first time new data show that despite dire shortages, only 19 per cent of local authorities across Britain indicated that parents had complained about a lack of holiday childcare in the last 12 months, even though at least 5 million children live in local authorities with insufficient holiday childcare."  Mothers who are still in 2016 the primary caregivers of children and who leave their jobs to care for their children often face financial difficulty paying for expensive summer programmes.  As one mother reported to me today, "What I make would not even cover the costs of putting two children in daycare."  This woman's plan is to sell her home and move outside London.  But this is not possible for many of the country's families who have great difficulty difficulty obtaining a loan, much less purchasing a property.  With the average cost of summer childcare schemes currently averaging £100 per week in the public sector,  and £123 in the private. That is if you are lucky to have a place as they are all taken aside from Wales and the east side of the country.

Some parents are fortunate enough to take their annual leave in coincidence with their children's school holidays whereby they might travel to Disneyland in Paris, visit relatives in Germany, or just stay put in Britain to discover its heritage, to visit one of its National Trust parks, or simply to have a silly time with the children at the Isle of Wight's annual Bestival. But all these events come with a heavy price tag and it is also unlikely that most working parents will be able to take annual leave coinciding with their children's holidays.  One can only wonder what the government has been doing these last few years to change the status quo as older children are facing a summer of being left at home to fend for themselves and younger children to the degree of concern that the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) has had to issue a warning this week against leaving children alone.

Recently Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party, criticised London Mayor Sadiq Khan over his lack of action to improve the situation of childcare for City Hall workers which directly affects the pay gap between men and women, stating:

Londoners' childcare is a third more expensive than anywhere in the UK and without taking the lack of affordable childcare into account these measures can't be fully successful...Where's the City Hall creche and childcare support for City Hall employees and where is the investment right across London, where women are more likely than anywhere in the country to be living in poverty and doing low-paid jobs?

Certainly, since women's equality in the workplace hinges upon the ability to get back into the job market after childbirth, then women need far more support instead of being edged out of summer childcare due to lack of space.  Even as the holiday childcare fees are slightly decreased from the levels of 2015 the fact that so many parents cannot even afford the average levels of summer childcare (£121.12) speaks volumes to the current crisis of standard of living in the nation's capital as well as the sub-standard wages paid.

While still a mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan responded to the Fawcett Society's briefing on women's equality in April stating:  "I will establish a London Childcare Commission, leading on the production of a new childcare strategy, involving employers, providers and local authorities to map provision and identify gaps across the city, because there are areas that have become childcare deserts."  This morning I contacted the Mayor's Press Office and was told that as of today this commission has yet to be formed.  Many parents await news of this impending commission and some pragmatic solutions to the crisis in summer childcare and beyond.