Two-thirds of working mothers lack summer childcare

Nearly two-thirds of working mothers do not have enough childcare for school summer holidays, according to a poll that points to a deepening crisis in the UK.

The poll by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the campaign group Mother Pukka involved more than 36,000 working mothers, and found that three in five expected to find managing childcare in the holidays more difficult this year.

The situation is more stark for single mothers, with three-quarters saying they would lack adequate childcare for the holidays.

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said women who had borne the brunt of the pandemic as key workers and by taking on more caring and home schooling responsibilities were facing a “huge challenge” this summer.

“While restrictions may be lifting and ministers talk about us getting back to normal, working mums are still feeling the impact of the pandemic,” she said. “It shouldn’t be this difficult. If ministers don’t act, we risk turning the clock back on generations of progress women have made at work.”

The poll found that nearly one in five mothers had used all their annual leave allowance on home schooling during lockdowns, one in eight did not have access to their usual summer clubs, and one in five were missing support networks. The self-selecting survey attracted 38,959 responses, of which 92% were from women and 8% were from single parents.

Anna Harris, a mother to four children ranging in age from four to nine, said that unlike in previous years there were no holiday clubs in her area, with the last one cancelling this week citing the expense and difficulty of adhering to Covid guidelines.

“I’ve tried everything, and I’ve contacted everyone I can think of,” she said. “I don’t know how other working parents are managing this. It’s all proving really stressful and is taking up a lot of time and mental space.”

The survey found that nearly half (48%) of mothers said they were managing caring responsibilities through some form of flexible working, with around two in five (39%) combining working from home with childcare. One in eight said they would have to reduce their hours, and the same proportion planned to take unpaid leave.

The TUC and Mother Pukka have started a petition calling for 10 days’ paid carer’s leave for all parents and have called for a legal right to flexible work for all workers from their first day in a job, as well as major investment in childcare.

Last month the Early Years Alliance (EYA) accused the government of “shamelessly, knowingly” underfunding the early years sector in England over the past decade.

Ofsted statistics published in May showed that more than 2,600 early years providers closed between April 2020 and the end of March 2021, including 442 nurseries and 2,185 childminders.

Anna Whitehouse, the founder of Mother Pukka, said the current system had left parents “at breaking point”. “If we are going to recover from this pandemic and ensure the playing field is level for men and women, we need childcare to be part of our infrastructure – as important as roads, railways and signposts,” she said.