Parents in UK face tougher struggle to afford childcare than parents abroad – survey


Findings from a poll of 7,000 pre-school parents in seven different countries highlight the dire situation for parents in the UK, whose struggle to afford nursery and childminder fees is worse than their counterparts abroad.

Three-quarters of UK parents (74 per cent) said they find it difficult to meet childcare costs, compared to 52 per cent in India, 57 per cent in the Netherlands, 59 per cent in Nigeria, 68 per cent in the US and Brazil, and 72 per cent in Turkey.  

Elvira Grobb, a parent from London said she spends £975 a month on childcare and is having to take on extra work to afford nursery fees, and is ‘close to burnout, working evenings and weekends to fund childcare and is close to dropping her degree as a result’.  

To coincide with the poll, Theirworld is launching a major campaign called Act For Early Years, which aims to draw attention to the global early years crisis.

The charity is calling on governments to urgently prioritise spending on the early years – ‘not least because of the profound effect’ early years care can have on children and their families. 

As part of this campaign, the Theirworld has published a global poll which shows that the ‘rocketing cost of childcare’ is forcing one in four UK parents to quit their job or drop out of education.   

It is part of a new report, Act For Early Years, which highlights the scale of the global early years crisis and its impact on children.  

Key findings include:  

  • One in four UK parents have had to quit their job or their studies to avoid childcare costs  
  • UK parents face tougher struggle to afford nursery and childminder fees than their counterparts in the Netherlands, US, India, Brazil, Turkey and Nigeria
  • Two-thirds of UK parents have had to make major financial changes, such as taking on more work and spending less on food, to pay for childcare  
  • Just over a fifth – 22 per cent – of UK parents spend between 30 per cent and 70 per cent of their income on childcare 

The findings are based on market research carried out by Theirworld, with Hall & Partners. A survey was carried out among 7,226 respondents from UK, Brazil, India, Netherlands, Turkey and US, all of whom are parents of children aged from birth to seven, or childcare professionals.   

Sarah Brown, chair of Theirworld, said the findings of the Act For Early Years report ‘laid bare the scale of the global early years crisis and its impact on children in rich and poor countries alike’.  

‘For a child, the first five to six years are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but this is being squandered on a global scale,’ she said.  

‘Providing for children in their early years must be treated as a public good, not a private test of a family’s financial strength. Parents around the world should no longer be reduced to hoping for the best, crossing their fingers that the inadequate care they are often forced to use isn’t a risk to their child’s safety or their future prospects in life.  

‘We need to see a revolution for the early years that brings together governments, businesses, international agencies, parents, frontline workers, civil society, youth campaigners and grassroots groups to improve the lives of the world’s youngest children.   

‘The early momentum is there. Around the world, community groups are already organising for change. We know that early years childcare is as essential to a country’s infrastructure as roads, hospitals and telecommunications.’ 

The charity’s Act For Early Years campaign is calling on governments to urgently prioritise spending on the early years – not least because of the profound effect early years care can have on children and their families. Experts say the early years is also when deep societal inequality sets in.   

Theirworld said that children from more prosperous, educated backgrounds tend to begin primary school ready to learn, but more than 40 per cent of children in low- and middle-income countries – almost 250 million children – are at risk of not attaining their full development potential due to poverty, inadequate nutrition, exposure to stress and a lack of early stimulation and learning.  

Global perspective

Currently just 0.5 per cent of UK GDP is spent on early childcare and education, according to the latest OECD data.    

In some countries, such as the US, Portugal, Ireland, Costa Rica, Cyprus and Turkey, it is as low as 0.3 per cent. Spending is highest in Iceland (1.7 per cent), followed by Sweden (1.6 per cent), Norway (1.4 per cent), France (1.3 per cent), Denmark (1.2 per cent) and Finland (1.1 per cent).   

Justin van Fleet, president of Theirworld, called for every child to be given a ‘comprehensive package of care and education’ for their first five years of life and that this should include ‘adequate nutrition, the opportunity to be stimulated through play and protection for their health’.   

‘Eight years ago, world leaders set a target that by 2030 every girl and boy should have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education,’ he said.   

‘But this target is off track and there is no recognised plan in place to achieve it. Chronic underfunding means that more than half of all children around the world don’t have access to the childcare they need, and around half of pre-primary aged children are not enrolled in any form of early education.   

‘Radical change is needed in how we provide for children and their families. It needs to become a global priority, with not just proper investment but bright ideas and bold policy making across the board. Only then will we give all children the start in life they deserve.’


Elvira Grob, 41, and her partner, Michael, spend £975 a month on three days of childcare for their 10-month-old daughter, Yoomi.

A lecturer in design on a zero hours contract, Elvira, who is also retraining and studying for a degree, returned to work two days a week when Yoomi was six months, but has been forced to take on extra freelance work to make ends meet.    

‘I’m close to burnout,’ she said. ‘I work in the evenings, I work when Yoomi sleeps, and I work at weekends. My income covers Yoomi’s childcare but I have rent to pay, and I also have to pay for my studies. It’s got to a point where I’m considering dropping my degree to help us pay our bills.’   

Elvira says that despite the high cost of childcare, she and Michael would not want to give up their daughter’s place at nursery to save money,    

‘She loves it there,’ she said. ‘It’s so good for her development. I feel like she’s learned so much in such a short space of time. She’s learning to socialise with other children and gets so much entertainment. We wouldn’t be able to give her that all the time at home with all the work we have to do. The staff are skilled and clearly love their work, while Yoomi gets lots of nutritious meals and snacks.  

‘What’s almost as bad is if the decision was taken out of our hands like if we were forced to move if our rent went up. Demand is so high there’s no guarantee that we would even be able to find a new nursery in a different area. 

If Elvira could send a message to the UK Government, it would be that, ‘Ministers need to realise how families are structured today. Most don’t live in communities, with family members nearby anymore. We’re very much alone like many of our friends. The Government needs to consider that reality, and make childcare work for working families.’

  • Read Sarah Brown’s comment piece here  



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