Can mothers afford to work?

This article was published in Lambeth Weekender but I’ve included here as well just because I made an accompanying infographic to include which I thought you might want to see!  Scroll down…

Lambeth is a microcosm of the situation of working mums nationally, and as anybody working, or possibly not working, knows, times are tough, writes Nicola Marven..

In an austerity climate jobs are scarcer and more unstable, and women are bearing the brunt of the recession. Between 2007, when Northern Rock crashed, and last year 69,000 more mothers than fathers became unemployed nationally.
In Lambeth the number of women working part time rose 6.1 per cent to 12,000, compared to a fall of 4.8 per cent to 8,000 for men.

For Marcella McHugh, Head of Early Years Foundation and Childcare at Lambeth Council, this shows women being forced into work by the economic needs of the family: “Second parents who might have stayed off work in the past are now increasingly working part-time.”

And women are usually the second parents, because they earn less. In Lambeth the pay gap for full time work is 78 pence per hour, with women earning an average of £16.59 compared to £17.37 for men.

Added to the rising costs of childcare (in Lambeth a fulltime childminder works out at £42 per day on average and a nursery place £52), and the decline in government policies to help working families – removal of Working Family Tax Credits and child benefit for middle-income families for example – increasingly, for families on middle income, it is becoming cheaper for the woman to stay at home.

The unions’ federation Trades Union Congress (TUC)’s Scarlet Harris calls it the ‘Motherhood Penalty.’ She said: “Fatherhood has a positive impact on men’s pay, perhaps because becoming a father raises the status of a man. The opposite happens for women. We know that life is more difficult for mothers because they’re more likely than fathers to drop out of work because of the problem of childcare.”

Alternatively, they have to think creatively: changing work patterns; relying on grandparents (as 49 per cent of users do) and friends or even starting their own business to suit their needs. We spoke to four Lambeth mums about their childcare solutions.

Unemployed women vs men

Grace Malcolm, founder of Treehouse Work & Play, 34, mother of a one and three year old
“It’s hard when the children are pressing the keypads and you’re running into the bathroom to make phone calls. Child care is very expensive and I know a lot of people who had to give up jobs because it wasn’t worth working. I relied on my family: putting my children into nursery was not an option. It makes it very difficult for you: either you have a job which earns a lot of money or you rely on the benefit system because you’re not going to be able to pay for child care. I set up Treehouse as a working space with a crèche because I couldn’t find anything like this.”

Sonia Townsend, Streatham, 40, company director, mother to Ramel and Ramoy, 18
“When my twin boys were born I couldn’t afford to go to work and pay for childcare for the two of them. It was difficult because I love work. For five years I volunteered for a couple of hours a day which was very satisfying. If I did part-time work, I wouldn’t have been any better off. My biggest barrier was after-school care. The Working Families’ Tax Credit covered this so it helped me be able to do a full days’ work. It must be difficult for mothers now without it: My sons are both going to university and I have high expectations for them.”

Gillian Cranshaw, Crystal Palace, 33, freelance digital PR consultant and blogger, mother to Eliza, 1
“I used to work in a PR office and technically it was 9 – 5.30 but everyone stayed late. After my maternity leave, I put in a flexible work application but they just were not having it at all. They said no. Now I’m freelancing and showing that it can work: I work from home or in the office. We get childcare vouchers but it’s not a massive amount. Childcare across London is expensive generally but in Lambeth it is SO expensive, it’s about £1200/month for full-time childcare. For a lot of people that is too much and they just can’t afford to work.”

Ruth Miller, 39, from Brixton merchandising administrator and ‘Little Lambeth’ blogger, mother of Chloe, 1
“I used to work five days a work at John Lewis but after I had Chloe I asked to work four days a week and they have been very flexible with me. There was quite a variety in the local childcare and we looked around for ages. We couldn’t afford our favourite one, but you have to make some compromises sometimes and Chloe is very happy in her nursery now. I have to juggle finances and it’s really hard, I’m just about managing. I’ve used the Treehouse crèche in Brixton – it’s really good and I hope it works out for them.”


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