Just a quick note to begin - all the views expressed in this blog are my own. I am not a contracted staff member with the Department for Education, and I am on a placement funded by the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.
During a discussion with a senior analyst in the Department for Education’s Early Years team I got the impression that the key aims of the government’s childcare policy are threefold. Firstly, childcare is provided to ensure that children receive the best possible start in life. Secondly, subsidised childcare helps combat rising costs in the price of living. And finally, providing free childcare places encourages parents (especially women) in returning to work. This blog, and the WAPPP funding, allows me to contribute to this agenda by considering the relationship between childcare and women’s employment.
So, what position is the UK currently in?
Before starting work I hadn’t fully
appreciated that the UK tailed behind other
countries on indicators around mother’s
employment. Whilst the employment rates
for women with children under five were
converging on the overall employment rate
in the UK, significant gaps still remained.
What’s more, when compared to the OECD
average the UK lags significantly behind other comparator countries in the employment rate of mothers with children aged between three and five. This is despite the UK having high female employment rates overall.
Arriving in the office, and discovering these statistics made me keen to learn more about the motivations to work for first time mothers. I found that continuing to dig through the statistics would prove fundamental to developing my understanding. For example, in London only 63.3% of mothers with dependent children were employed compared to an average of 72.9% elsewhere.
The report that presented the employment figures listed above suggested that a variety of factors account for the low rates of maternal employment in London. These include access to informal care from parents and grandparents, irregular work patterns, long commutes, high child poverty and expensive childcare. Each of these factors prevents women from placing their children in care and returning to work. In addition, where mothers have returned to work this has been linked to a decline in the rate of short-term unemployment. However, little has happened to change the job prospects for the long term unemployed.
From a supply perspective, there are several factors driving high childcare costs. Firstly, high rents in big cities mean childcare institutions cannot afford to supply at a low price. The pressure on primary school places caused by demographic growth has led to a reduction in the supply of childcare centres adjacent to primary schools. Finally, the cost of living in London drives up the cost of childcare workers, who represent the main cost of childcare.
Having begun to open the Pandora’s box of knotty relationships between women’s employment, childcare and government policy I decided that I could use those factors identified above as a way to guide the structure of this blog. The themes of my updates over the summer are as follows:
Week 3: Considering whether it is a ‘good’ thing for women to work. I will ask whether it is beneficial for mothers, children and wider society for women to return to work when they still have young children.
Week 4: Examining the relationship between formal and informal care, and the effect of geography on networks of women, family members and friends who can assist with childcare.
Week 5: Considering how changes to the labour market, increasing self-employment, part-time working and flexible contracts affect both women and their children.
Week 6: Examining childcare as ‘women’s work’
Week 7: Looking at the childcare market as a whole, considering factors driving price increases and explaining the rationale for government intervention.
Week 8: Evaluating what I have learnt over the summer.
These themes are not necessarily fixed, and if new or interesting considerations arise it is likely that these topics will change. If any blog readers have any specific interests in a topic, or want me to explore something I’ve mentioned in more detail please e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org