Childcare in London has reached truly staggering levels of expense.
I wonder if those of you who are childfree, or who live outside London, or who are oligarchs swimming in pools of gold coins, have any idea what costs normal parents are looking at when trying to find quality childcare for their pre-schoolers.
Where I live, in a fairly ordinary part of North London, a full-time childminder or nursery place can cost over £20,000. For one child. If you have two children, you're looking at nearly twice that. Childminders charge per child, as do nurseries. You might get lucky and get a 'sibling discount', but around here that discount is only 5%. As childcare costs come out of your post-tax salary, to pay that amount you're looking at earning almost £55,000 just to pay for your childcare. Meanwhile, of course, you've also got to find housing, food, heating, clothing and everything else.
And nurseries and childminders are meant to be the affordable options!
Remember, the average wage in London is £36,000, i.e. absolutely nowhere near enough to pay for all this.
It's little wonder that many parents (mums, mostly) decide that it's not worth working at all. Even though they want to, according to a government report released this month.
Childcare was a big issue in the last election. I personally very much enjoyed the last minute bidding when both parties felt desperate towards the end of the campaign. Labour offered 25 hours per week free for 3 year olds, and the Tories countered with a surprise offer of 30 hours free. There is a cynical rumour that this was one of the policies intended to be jettisoned as part of coalition negotiations, but the Tories unexpectedly won outright and there were no negotiations. So they were stuck with it.
The 30 hours free childcare policy has put the nursery industry into the strange position of arguing against its own expansion. Across the country, nursery managers believe that the additional places are unlikely to be sufficiently funded. That means they'll lose money for every 'free' place they offer. Nursery managers are scared they'll come under pressure from parents to offer the 30 free hours. There have been dozens of attempts at lobbying, petitions and so on to call the whole thing off.
We know what parents want: affordable, quality, flexible childcare. We also know we are miles and miles away from having it. At the same time as workplaces are getting more flexible, our childcare provision is only getting more and more expensive. Costs have risen 78% since 2003, far more than inflation over that period.
It's not enough to have political policies which are unfunded, or worse to ignore the problem entirely. We need much more innovation like nanny shares, or a lot more childminders.
That'd be a start, anyway.