The Government scheme to offer 30 hours free childcare (up from 15 hours) for three and four year olds started in September, and while only time will tell what the impact will be not only on working parents, but on business, in my opinion it’s definitely step in the right direction. It certainly time households with working parents got a little something back especially in an otherwise fairly bleak economic time.
The new scheme will offer working parents more choice when deciding if they could afford to return to work. When I worked in HR I saw first-hand the struggles faced by working parents on deciding whether to return to work, there is a lot to consider. Changing hours to part-time is not always possible or desirable for either parent. Training to boost your career options seems a luxury you simply can’t afford – financially or time-wise. Factor in the cost of, and the time restrictions of nursery, some jobs just don’t seem viable anymore. The reality is, it still is largely women who take time off to cover childcare and so their careers are affected disproportionately. For some working parents, the change in personal circumstances can be a catalyst to look at changes to their working life, many see training as an opportunity to develop a career that will benefit their new family life however they also see the barriers they may encounter – time to study without incurring additional childcare costs for one. However, if we can create choice – the choice of returning to work or staying at home, the choice to grow your career to support your growing family – through greater flexibility, without the added financial strain of childcare costs, then perhaps we can offer some real opportunities to working parents, and the organisations who employ them. So, while the additional 15 hours of free childcare may not seem life changing, for those who it gives a choice to, it may well be.
For those of you who have read Sheryl Sandberg’s influential book ‘Lean In’, you will know that she strongly advocates women staying in their role even if they spend all their money on childcare. She advises that it will impact their future earnings and also future enjoyment of the workplace. Should they leave their current role, they lose experience and confidence and will ultimately have to re-enter the workforce in a lesser role than if they had stayed. This policy could take a bit of pressure off working parents once their children turn three, which may in turn have some small but positive effects on bringing more women back into the workplace. These new funded hours are not going to change the world but at least it is a nod towards a society that recognises the world has changed and that working parents deserve a bit more support. For more information and to check eligibility: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-41111132