The costs of returning to work OR staying at home
A friend of mine is about to return to work as a nurse after a year’s maternity leave, and she will have two children in nursery, so until the term after her eldest turns three and she gets funded hours, more or less her entire take-home salary will be spent on childcare.
This is such a common story for women, caught between a rock and a hard place when the maternity pay runs out. Do I return to work and spend most of my take-home pay on childcare, or do I take a longer break from work and take a permanent hit to my career? Many of us end up having to work more hours than we want, spending less time than we would like with our young children.
This situation also traps the main breadwinner in a job they may not be happy in, as they have to keep enough money coming in to support the family.
Despite the crippling costs for parents of childcare, nursery workers are amongst the lowest paid, and pay is so low that half of nursery workers receive benefits. It’s shocking how undervalued and underfunded early years care is, especially when you look across the North Sea to countries where high quality free childcare is a given.
The early years are vital
Early years provision is tragically underfunded, with far less free support available to parents now than there was 10 years ago. “The Sutton Trust recently found that, since 2010, 1,000 Sure Start centres – more than 30% – have closed, and those that remain offer a much more limited range of services.” We also know that Suffolk County Council is proposing to close or repurpose half of the current Children’s Centres in Suffolk.
It’s all very strange, when the government themselves have repeatedly reported on how valuable the first 1,000 days are in a child’s life. This period is critical for the child’s life chances and impacts their mental and physical health for the rest of their lives. We’re seeing an epidemic in childhood mental health and obesity problems, yet funding for the crucial first three years continues to be cut. Stay-at-home parents are classed as “economically inactive” and according to our current Home Secretary, it’s the economically active who aren’t contributing to society and should get back to work. It’s interesting how raising your own child isn’t considered contributing to society, isn’t it?
Looking after young children is so little valued by our society, either as a parent looking after your own child, or in an under-funded childcare setting. I’ve heard mothers describe themselves as “Just a mum” when asked what they do. You wouldn’t describe yourself as “Just a brain surgeon” or “Just a firefighter”. Yet what job is harder, has longer hours, or has more long term importance than raising a child?
We’re seeing a huge rise in the reported number of mental health problems in children and young people, yet the statistics for dealing with them don’t make positive reading:
And it’s not just children that are facing mental health problems. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men report suffering from postnatal depression. But I suspect the true picture may be worse than this, as half the women surveyed by the National Childbirth Trust in 2017 reported that they experienced mental health or emotional difficulties at some time during pregnancy or in the year after birth. And what about the 2nd or 3rd year after birth, when the struggles of work/childcare hit?
The UK is at 15th place in the 2019 world happiness index, and the top four are, surprise surprise, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland. It’s no coincidence that these countries have good, free childcare provision, and make it easier for women to return to work. Iceland is lauded as the best county in the world to be a woman. It’s clearly a good thing when women feel supported to make the choices they want to make about work, and know that their children’s care is valued. Prioritising the wellbeing and happiness of women and children makes a happier country overall. It benefits everyone, male or female, young and old.
What can Suffolk Babies do to help?
We set up Suffolk Babies to try and make life a bit easier and happier for new parents. We want families in Suffolk to be continually supported through pregnancy and early childhood, because we know parents need it. We’ve been there ourselves and worked with thousands of parents over the years.
All our classes are directly aimed at helping parents to develop that vital secure attachment between parent and child. If you have a positive birth experience, understand your baby’s needs, development and behaviour, and have a group of friends going through a similar experience to you, it puts you in a much stronger position to build a strong bond with your child, and navigate the ups and downs of the early years of parenting.
To date, we have provided free antenatal classes to over 4,500 people in Suffolk since 2017. The contribution Suffolk Babies makes to Ipswich Hospital by providing the Essential Preparation for Birth Workshop is more (actually considerably more) than Bounty gives them. How cool is that for such a small community-based company to make that much difference? We save the NHS enough money every year to fund a Midwife’s salary.
We also provide a home in our centre for free services like breastfeeding support and the homebirth group. We run free baby and toddler groups and are finding that there is an ever-increasing demand for free places on our fee-paying classes. However, we are given very little funding. We get nothing from the NHS, Suffolk County Council, or the government. We have a small amount of funding to provide free classes for those who cannot afford to pay, but everything else, including all those antenatal classes, is completely self-funded by us.
How do we do it?
To survive we need to sell 450 classes per month to pay the overheads on the centre and wages, 405 classes per month to fund the free NHS antenatal workshop, 25 classes per month to fund messy play or a drop-in support group. That’s a total of 880 classes per month as the absolute minimum. By lots of people contributing a little, we can create something much bigger and more powerful. It’s a virtuous circle, and, we hope, a sustainable one.
We can’t solve the problems around work and childcare, but the bigger we get and the more support we have, the better we are able to persuade people in power to listen to us and put more emphasis on supporting new parents. We can help you have the best possible time when you are at home with your baby or toddler and feel confident in your parenting choices.
Our team works really hard to continue to provide the very best antenatal, baby, toddler and postnatal fitness classes to as many of you as possible. We are a bunch of normal mums who want to do our best for our local community. We’ll keep on campaigning for families, working every hour we can and investing in our community to make the changes we know need to happen to enable families to really thrive during pregnancy and the preschool period.
We can do it, with your support, and thank you to everyone
who has booked places with us this term, shared our posts, and recommended us
to your friends. No one else does what we do and with your continued support we
can carry on supporting the health and wellbeing of new parents.