While it’s not a new struggle (parents have faced this problem for decades now), the cost of living crisis and lack of summertime childcare provision for children, especially those with special educational needs and disabilities, is adding an extra element of stress and anguish to the mix.
Lauren Johnson, 34, runs a dance events company from her home in Manchester. She has a seven-year-old and a nine-month-old baby – and, since her second child was born, hasn’t been able to take a day off for maternity leave due to the financial implications and lingering impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on her business.
Her partner is a scientist and is lab-based from 7am until 5pm, Monday to Friday, which means her plan for the summer holidays is to work around her children at home.
“Our closest family is 1.5 hours away so we have absolutely no help and we can’t afford childcare, so I’m left with no choice but to continue working from home around both kids,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“It’s hard but it’s something I have no choice but to manage.”
For lots of parents, paying for holiday childcare is simply out of the question when margins are already squeezed by sky-high mortgage and rent payments, and inflated grocery, fuel and energy bills.
A recent report by Coram Family and Childcare revealed holiday childcare costs have risen by 3% since 2022. The average place at a holiday club now costs £157 per week, which is 2.3 times what parents pay for an after school club during term time.
It means families will now find themselves £943 out of pocket for six weeks of holiday childcare.
Those who opt out of summertime childcare often find themselves rearranging their working day to get everything done. Claire Gleave, 43, from the Cotswolds, has three sons of school age and juggles the holidays largely without childcare.
Nicole Ratcliffe is self-employed as an infant sleep consultant, but because her business doesn’t yet pay the bills, she also works on a freelance basis for another company.
For the first two weeks of the summer holidays, she’s paid for her daughters – who are three and seven years old – to go to holiday club and nursery. For her eldest child, this will cost £220 for two weeks, but for her child who’s at nursery, the costs are higher.
Her plan is to work as many hours as possible in those first two weeks so she can then keep things “ticking over”, working a couple of hours a day in the weeks that follow while caring for her kids.
“It will be challenging, but if I know that the money is coming in as I have done the hours I am paid to do, then I can enjoy the time with the kids more and hopefully be more present,” she adds.
Her plan is to work every evening and then her husband, who is a self-employed piano teacher, will care for their children for an hour each morning so she can catch up on work.
“This means I will be able to still take the girls out for the day and they are having me be present for them,” she adds.
The mum-of-two admits there “will definitely be a financial hit” as a result of stepping back from work for three to four weeks.
Money is a huge worry for lots of parents this summer – a survey by John Lyon’s Charity revealed 31% of parents can no longer afford to take their children out to theme parks, day trips, camping trips and other activities during the school holidays because of the cost of living crisis.
Another survey by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) found that almost half of parents are worried about finding time to play with their child over the summer holidays – primarily because they’re unable to take time off work as well as the rising cost of activities.
“I could not afford childcare in the UK, so staying with my family is beyond helpful.”
Emma Gosling, a financial coach and hypnotherapist, is having to rely on a mixture of holiday clubs, childcare sharing duties with friends, and grandparent help to get by over the summer break while her nine-year-old is off school.
They’ll be on holiday for two weeks, which means they’ve got four weeks left to fill. Her husband has a week off work, so will look after their son then, and the rest of the time, she plans to go to her mum’s, take her son with her and she’ll work remotely from there.
Even for those lucky enough to be able to afford to send their kids to school holiday clubs, finding space for them can prove tricky. Only 24% of English local authorities reported having enough holiday childcare available for parents in their area who work full-time, down 2% from last year.
And for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), this provision is even more limited. A survey by Contact and the Disabled Children’s Partnership found nine in 10 families have been unable to find a suitable holiday club or activity for their disabled child this summer.
As a result, 34% of parents have been forced to stop working over the summer.
One parent involved in the survey revealed: “I just want to cry. I’ve no idea how I will cope. At the moment I do not know what we will do and I’m losing sleep over it.”
Another revealed their husband had taken unpaid leave to look after their child, while they were also considering having to reduce their work hours, “but this will be a great financial stress”.
“I have had to leave jobs previously due to their being no suitable childcare services for him. It limits the job I can do and income the household can receive,” they added.
Charities are calling on UK governments and local councils to prioritise provision of holiday clubs and childcare for disabled children and their families, and ensure more childcare staff have special educational needs training.
In the Spring Budget, the chancellor announced £289m funding to support the development and extension of wraparound childcare. However, this only focuses on term time childcare, rather than the year-round childcare that most working parents need.
As a result, Coram is urging governments to increase and extend funding for wraparound care during the school holidays and improve accessibility of holiday childcare for children with SEND.
A UK government spokesperson told the BBC: “We have spent more than £4bn in each of the past five years to support families with the cost of childcare and have set out plans to help providers run their businesses more flexibly.
“Thousands of children from low-income families all over England are benefiting from our Holiday Activities and Food programme during the long school holidays, backed by £200m a year over the next three years.”