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When it comes to Childcare, is it best to think inside the office?

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Published by: Dutyfy

11th September 2013

Results so far from our Dutyfy survey show that a huge proportion of you believe that having childcare options at work would drastically improve life for working parents.

It is more crucial than ever to provide affordable, convenient and high-quality childcare. Not only are there increasing numbers of families in which both parents work, but there are also more mono-parental families. Despite this, nursery care is becoming more expensive and harder to find. According to the Daycare Trust and the Family and Parenting Trust, working parents are paying 11% more now than they were a year ago.

This is a big hindrance to parental working, and a huge reinforcer of social inequality.  For example, 25% of parents in poverty have given up work and 33% have turned down a job, because the resulting childcare costs would be too much for them to shoulder. Female economic activity in the UK has actually “flatlined”: after rising 7.4% in the 1980s, women’s participation in work rose just 0.9% in the 1990s and 1.4% in the 2000s.  I would suggest that the lack of affordable childcare is one of the big factors behind this.

In central london, on-site creches are far more common in the public sector. The House of Commons, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth office have nurseries, as does Charing Cross Hospital and Hammersmith Hospital.  Why is this not happening more in private companies?  Why is it that relatively few offices in London offer this service, when benefits to the employer as well as the employee are so clear?

According to Kids Unlimited, a childcare provider that offers solutions both in and outside of offices, the benefits of workplace nurseries are huge for all parties involved.  For example, there are tax incentives to the employees, since the cost of the childcare is exempt from income tax.  The employer, on the other hand, makes significant savings on National Insurance Contributions.

Further benefits are obvious. When childcare is available and reasonably priced, there is a greater incentive for parents to return to work, and absenteeism is reduced.  It also is a strong tool when it comes to recruiting the top talent from a wider pool, and retaining them, being a key differentiator within an organisation’s employee benefits package.  On a broader economic level, when childcare is left to the family alone, it leads to the aggravation of social inequalities.

But in London, where we have some of the longest commutes in the most crowded of vehicles, is a creche at the office the best solution?  The daily trip to and from work is stressful and uncomfortable enough without a young child in tow.  As I stood in a jam-packed central line train this with my nose pressed up against someone’s back, I realised where a problem may lie.   But although this may be a manifest obstacle, we should not give up looking for a solution.

Nursery schemes may work better outside of London.  For example, CA technologies, an IT management based in Slough, has an onsite Montessori Children’s Centre for 80-100 children, which is discounted for staff.

An that idea might be successful in London would be for companies to partner with a nursery provider and subsidise places all around the city in areas where many employees live.  An existing option which is responding to the rise in flexible working is a Work Hub-cum-Nursery in Putney called 3rd door. This has offices, computers and desks where parents can work, with an attached nursery.  If companies could only get behind these new initiatives, and either create their own or subsidise the use of them, a huge and unnecessary burden would be taken off working parents.

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Dutyfy is a network for women who want to make space for personal goals, such as motherhood, volunteering and philanthropy, alongside and in partnership with their career. Join the conversation as we strive to re-define ‘normal’, and challenge the assumptions that prescribe our choices and dictate how we see ourselves. Together let’s explore a path that recognises and values all aspects of a life’s ambition.

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