The summer holidays are meant to be idyllic days spent with family having ice cream on sunny beaches. Unfortunately, for many parents the long summer holidays are a source of worry and stress. As schools break up, this is the last week that many parents will know what to do for childcare.
Every year the Family and Childcare Trust looks at cost and availability of childcare during school holidays - speaking to parents and local authorities. This year's findings were shocking but perhaps not surprising.
Only a quarter of English local authorities told us that they had enough holiday childcare for working parents. This has dropped from nearly half in 2009. And the situation is even more acute for parents with school aged children, children in rural areas and for disabled children where availability of holiday childcare is even scarcer - even though local authorities are required by law to make sure there is enough childcare for these groups of children.
The cost of the average holiday club is now £115 per week. And in the last five years the prices have risen by nearly 20% - at the same time as wages have remained the same. This has had consequences with 35% of parents telling us that they found it difficult to find holiday childcare they could afford. Nina, one of the parents we spoke to told us:
"The summer holidays are just a nightmare. I can't afford a holiday club for more than a week, so we have to cobble together childcare for the other five weeks. We take a week's holiday then me and my husband share out our remaining leave. The kids go to their grandparents, but that still leaves us a week to cover. It's stressful and expensive and I worry about getting overdrawn in August."
As a result of high prices and lack of available childcare, parents resort to extreme strategies to make sure their children are looked after during the summer holidays. One in five parents told us they had called in sick to cover childcare. And a further 12% of parents had been forced to give up a job entirely. As Lisa, a parent we spoke to said:
"We are finding it extremely difficult to manage during the school holidays as we are reliant on elderly grandparents to help with childcare and they find it increasingly difficult physically to care for our son. We are now at the point where I am faced with having to give up work due to lack of suitable childcare."
This combination of unaffordable prices, lack of holiday childcare and inflexible employers is clearly bad for parents and children - causing stress, worry and loss of income. But it is also bad for our economy. Parents calling in sick means the UK economy loses nearly a million working days every year - costing the economy £100million.
This is not good enough. Most parents have no choice but to work and they should not be forced to give up work or call in sick to manage childcare. The Family and Childcare Trust is calling on schools, employers and the government to do more to help parents with childcare during the long summer holidays. This makes sense not only for parents but also for our economy.