Childcare in the UK is already hideously expensive... and it's going to get worse after Brexit.
The UK already has amongst the most expensive childcare in the world.
Unfortunately, with a huge percentage of childcare workers in the United Kingdom originating from Europe, childcare will become even more expensive after Brexit.
Here's why, and what that means for working parents.
FEWER CHILDCARE WORKERS
Young European women are the backbone of the British childcare industry. For decades they've come to the United Kingdom in droves, staying for a few years to improve their English and looking after working parents' children while they're here. As these women get older and start thinking about families of their own, some stay in the UK, some leave, and those that leave are replaced by newcomers. The difference now is that the newcomers aren't coming, and more than usual who are here now will leave. These are nannies and nursery workers who may love the UK and their jobs, but who feel unwelcome and anxious post-Brexit. The UK feels precarious, no longer a place they want to lay down roots by buying a house or finding a husband. We don't need to wait until after Article 50 is triggered to see this effect; it's happening already.
Post-Brexit, it's impossible to predict what kind of visa regime we'll have. But it's
virtually certain to be harder than it is now for young European women to come, and highly likely that childcare workers won't qualify for any 'highly-skilled' fast-track routes.
Meanwhile, the more British element of the childcare workforce, the childminders--self-employed and working from their own homes--has long been in decline. Childminder numbers are down by 17% since 2011, as many childminders feel overwhelmed by paperwork and their pay lags behind runaway housing costs. Brexit doesn't look great for them either. Reform is needed to fix the problems driving the decline in childminders, but with Brexit as the main focus there will be less spare capacity than ever in the civil service and no spare time in Parliament for legislation.
A few European parents who employ nannies and send their children to nursery or childminder will also leave the United Kingdom because of Brexit. For example, many French bankers may take the Eurostar home avec la famille. But as a proportion of parents, this is small. The proportion of Europeans among childcare workers is much, much bigger.
MORE EXPENSIVE CHILDCARE
It's easy to see the effect of this. It's simple supply and demand. Less supply of workers, same demand = higher prices. As a result, the cost of a nanny will go up, as will nursery fees. The government's policies of tax free childcare and the new living wage are already putting a lot of pressure on nurseries, so in areas where parents can't afford to pay these higher rates, many nurseries will likely go bust.
FEWER WOMEN GOING BACK TO WORK
Lower earning women will be less likely than ever to go back to work after having a baby. It's already very difficult for anyone who's not in the higher tax brackets to afford to pay for childcare. Many women don't actually really take home anything when they have young children--they work because they value it as an end in itself, and to keep their career going so that they can return to it later on.
High earning women will still go back to work, as it still makes good economic sense both at the time and in terms of an investment in their lifetime career.
Brexit will shift the 'tipping point' between these two groups, so that overall, more women will stay home.
MORE DEMAND FOR CHEAPER OPTIONS
It's likely that the demand for cost-saving childcare options like nanny share will increase, as they'll become relatively even more attractive than they are today. Top part time nannies will also be even more in demand than usual.
There are some winners. Brexit is great news for native British nannies, whose
salaries will likely increase, and who will find it easier to get jobs in a less competitive market in future. Top sources like Norland will not be affected. It's good for lower-qualified nannies, who will find it easier to get a job given the overall shortage. It's also good news for the men of Continental Europe, and - if the women still decide to work in childcare in their native countries - their children, too.
However, it's clearly bad for British working parents.