The impact of high childcare costs on new mothers’ decisions about returning to work is highlighted in new research by Coram Family and Childcare.

The study finds that women who live in the country’s most expensive areas for childcare are significantly less likely to return to work part time after maternity leave than women who live in areas where childcare is cheaper.

The study combines data from Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study of approximately 40,000 households in the UK, with data on childcare costs from Coram Family and Childcare. It analyses the choices of British women from the year before they have a baby to up to three years afterwards.

The research indicates that part-time working, family networks and other caring responsibilities are also key influences in women’s choices about work after having a baby. Key findings include the following.

  • Women working part-time are particularly hard hit by childcare prices, with those living in areas with high childcare prices less likely to return to work.

  • Women are more likely to return to work if they can use informal childcare, such as having grandparents care for their child. 74% of mothers who use informal childcare have returned to work, or started work, three years after having a baby, compared to only 47% who don’t use it.

  • Caring for other people, as well as their child, reduces the likelihood that new mothers will return to work.

The report highlights that supporting mothers who wish to remain in or return to the workplace increases family income, reduces the need for benefits and improves productivity by retaining women’s valuable skills. Coram Family and Childcare is calling for policy interventions to reduce the cost of childcare through free provision and support to help more women return to work, particularly at the point just after leave, when childcare is most expensive. It also calls on the government to do more to incentivise all employers to support parents to balance work and care.

Claire Harding, head of Coram Family and Childcare, said:

“Too many parents in the UK are frozen out of work by the high cost of childcare, particularly in the first few years when the price is highest and there is no free childcare available.”

“This means families face a drop in income and parents’ vital skills are lost to employers and the economy. Government must act to make sure all parents are better off working after paying for childcare.”

“As the research shows, childcare prices particularly disadvantage women who want to work part-time or need to combine work with other caring responsibilities. Making childcare affordable and available to all women who want it would improve families’ wellbeing and give all women the option of remaining in the work force.”

The full research paper can be found here.

Last reviewed 28 October 2019