Reforming childcare to support mothers in work

21 February 2014

A new report published by the IPPR and funded by the Foundation explores the factors behind maternal employment in the UK, and especially the pivotal role of affordable, accessible childcare in supporting mothers who want to work, or to work more, to do so. 

Despite having relatively high female employment rates, the UK has comparatively low maternal employment rates. Studies that assess the impact of different areas of family and social policy on employment rates consistently find that the degree of public support for childcare is a significant determinant of maternal employment rates. Countries with greater enrolment rates in publicly funded or provided childcare also have higher maternal employment.

And maternal employment rates are important for important in tackling child poverty, reducing the ‘motherhood pay penalty’ and to parents’ health and wellbeing.

Increasing maternal employment rates also provides benefits to the public purse. For example, increasing overall maternal employment rate by five percentage points would be worth around £750 million annually in increased tax revenue and reduced benefit spending. Increasing the proportion of mothers who are working full-time rather than part-time by five percentage points would be worth around £700 million a year.

Overall, many mothers say that they do want to work and/or increase their working hours, but repeated parent surveys have found that one very significant barrier is the lack of affordable childcare, and/or the lack of flexibility in the work that is available.

The IPPR report suggests that the UK should be working towards three main priorities:

  • More affordable childcare for mothers with children aged up to two, for low-skilled and for lone parents, in order to enable them to enter, or re-enter, employment.
  • More affordable childcare to parents of three- and four-year-olds and families where mothers are already in work, in order to enable mothers to increase their working hours.
  • A system that is supply funded and more affordable for parents: childcare should account for around 10 per cent of a family’s disposable income.

This research is part of IPPR’s wider project – Childcare: a strategic national priority that aims to synthesise key insights from the latest research and practice to help policy makers consider the options for developing childcare and family policy in the years ahead. Early years and childcare can promote child development, support parents into work and advance gender equality, but that sometimes these goals can be in tension.  

Download Childmind the gap: reforming childcare to support mothers into work