Research shows that there are many benefits to having affordable childcare. For example, it can protect against some of the effects of poverty for children from low-income households and has lasting effects on those children’s social and cognitive development.
Affordable childcare also makes it much easier for parents and carers to access employment opportunities, boosting the family’s income and improving the child’s well-being.
However, the latest figures show that there’s still a significant difference between European countries when it comes to childcare costs. In some countries, it is so expensive that women are unable to return to the workplace because of the cost of high-quality childcare.
It’s estimated that, across all European countries, 90% of children aged three to five attend and a third of children under the age of three attend formal childcare.
These costs vary greatly, with the lowest costs being in Germany and Austria, where it costs an average of 5% of the median female earnings as parents benefit from free public childcare.
Elsewhere, childcare is heavily subsidized in most European countries. In the Netherlands, childcare benefits cover the cost of private providers so low-income parents end up paying as little as 5%, despite the actual cost being 80% of median female earnings.
The most expensive country for childcare is the UK, with the average cost being 52% of median female earnings, making it the most expensive in the developed world. A recent survey by a charity found that, in some cases, it takes up 75% of parents’ incomes.
Although low-income families in the UK can apply for help with childcare costs, this only applies to those earning less than £16,000 a year. Another issue is that the money is paid back in arrears, which can be a barrier to parents returning to work.
As the cost of living crisis has already put pressure on household budgets, childcare is becoming so unaffordable that millions of women are forced to reduce their working hours or leave the workforce due to the high costs.
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