When UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that this year’s spring budget would include reforms to childcare, parents’ WhatsApp groups across the country were on fire. Parents in the UK have to shoulder some of the highest costs for childcare in the world, and many were anxious to hear how much of a life raft the government was willing to throw them.
The package Hunt presented—an extra 30 hours of free childcare per week to parents of 1- and 2-year-olds, more funding for the existing program of free childcare for 3-year-olds, and an increase in hourly pay for childcare providers—is a step in the right direction. However, most of the measures won’t kick in until 2024 at the earliest, leaving many still struggling with exorbitant costs.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), UK parents spend a third of their wages on childcare, on average. Another study by maternity discrimination charity Pregnant Then Screwed found that 22 percent of parents shoulder childcare costs equating to over half of their household income, and one in 10 say it’s the same or more than their take-home pay per day.
The cost of childcare has meant that many parents—often, mothers—see no financial benefit to going back to work. With government support still less than adequate, some companies are taking on the burden, offering childcare vouchers, time off for emergency childcare, shared parental leave, and even on-site childcare facilities.
“The UK’s childcare crisis isn’t new, but skyrocketing living costs and the remote work revolution kickstarted by the pandemic mean workers now expect their employers to help them manage,” says Ally Fekaiki, CEO and founder of Juno, a platform through which employees choose their own benefits. “As part of this, staff are given the option to use their Juno allowance to reimburse any service or product that adds value to them—for lots of people, this means reimbursing childcare.”
Fekaiki has noted that in lieu of adequate government support, many of the 150 companies in Juno’s user base are stepping in to cover rising childcare costs. It’s proving invaluable for workers based in the UK, but also farther afield. “We’re seeing users based in the UK, Spain, Canada, Egypt, and beyond expensing wraparound childcare, summer camps, and nursery fees—this support is universally invaluable,” he says.
Some companies began providing subsidized physical spaces long before the crisis began. Toyota has been running an on-site nursery at its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire for over 15 years, as has the networking software and hardware company Cisco, with a nursery on its Bedfont Lakes campus in Feltham, Greater London. Developed in partnership with childcare provider Bright Horizons, it offers 55 places for children aged three months to five years, running 8 am to 6 pm five days a week. “Of course, we’ve had a dip in numbers [using the facility] because of the pandemic,” says Jen Scherler-Gormley, Cisco’s Global Country Acceleration Leader of People and Communities. “But Cisco ensures that the provision is open, regardless of how many people are actually in at one time.”