Childcare – are we asking too much of our parents?

Childcare, it’s not cheap is it. As parents who have, at various stages of both our daughters’ pre-school lives, had to fork out shy of 1k a month I know the tough financial (and emotional) choices we all have to make.

The cost of living, and our lifestyles, will more than likely mean it’s not an option to have one parent out of the paid workforce.

[Can I add that I believe housework and looking after children is still work – and  when this is acknowledged we will have true equality.]

But for now… many parents cannot afford this bill, but they cannot afford to not go out to work either.

So it’s likely, the job of looking after young children will be done by parents, the grandparents.

Now as a writer and journalist I have the luxury of being able to people-watch via the school run and during my lunch break when I pop down the road into the centre of the market town where I live.

I’ve noticed an increase in the number of young children being looked after by grandparents.

Of course it’s lovely they are doing this, but there are moments when I wonder – are we expecting too much of our parents?

The other day I helped an elderly woman push her grandchild up the hill. Emotionally she may be capable with looking after her children but physically it may have been too demanding.

I also witnessed an older woman swearing and shouting at a child in a pushchair, when I asked if she needed help another woman intervened and explained to me that this woman had early signs of dementia.

The child’s parents had obviously run out of options.

I’m not saying these examples are the norm, but I find looking after my 6 and 10 year olds demanding, and I’m a very healthy young-ish woman.

My mother and step father live nearby, and both my sister and myself chose to invest in childcare despite my mother’s insistence that she could look after them.

Even though it may have meant we weren’t flush with cash, it was money well spent. Luckily there is decent childcare and a very good pre school at my daughters’ and nieces’ school.

I was prompted to write this blog because the number of grandparents looking after children is on the rise, according to official figures.

New figures revealed to insurer Royal London under the Freedom of Information Act show that more than 10,000 grandparents and other family members received help with their state pension in 2017/18 for looking after grandchildren.

Royal London’s stats show a sevenfold increase on two years ago.

Royal London’s Steve Webb released these figures to draw attention to the scheme.

Under a government scheme, a family member who is looking after a child under 12 while the child’s parents are out at work can benefit from a National Insurance credit.

The parent (who has gone back to work) is likely to be paying NI in their own right and so no longer needs the NI credit that comes with receipt of child benefit.  They can sign this over to the family member who is looking after their child, at no cost to themselves.

Such credits are added to the National Insurance record of the grandparent (if they are still under state pension age) and help them to build up a full state pension.

Steve said:  “Given that there are more than 7 million grandparents in Britain (of all ages) with grandchildren under 16, it is hard to believe that the 10,084 who claim NI credits is more than a small fraction of those who are entitled.

Becky O’Connor, personal finance specialist at Royal London, the mutual insurer, said: “Grandparents are propping up the return to work of thousands of parents across the UK.

“Without this support, parents might struggle to afford the necessary childcare, which is about £245 a week for a nursery place for a two-year old in England – the equivalent for many families of a second mortgage. For many people, the only way to keep a valued job is to ask the older generation to help.

“Grandparents are doing a job for free because they want to do the right thing by their children and grandchildren. But it’s hard physical and emotional work, which many do past their retirement age, at a time when they are at risk of ill health and frankly, want to do less not more.”

Royal London wants to raise awareness of the scheme.

How does it work?

These credits can be of considerable value to someone who would not otherwise build up a full state pension.  One year of credits can be worth 1/35 of a full pension (because 35 years of contributions are needed for the full rate).   The full state pension is currently £8,767 per year, and 1/35 of this is around £250.  This means that someone who claims these credits for a year could get an extra £250 on their pension, or around £5,000 in total over the course of a typical twenty year retirement.

  • The scheme is known as the ‘specified adult childcare credit’ (this is because other family members such as aunts and uncles can also apply, not just grandparents);
  • Under the scheme, the child benefit recipient can sign to indicate that she (or he) no longer wishes to benefit from the NI credit that comes with the child benefit;  this might be because they are out at work and paying NICs in any case, so do not benefit from the credit;
  • There is no minimum hours requirement, and claims can be backdated to when the scheme was first introduced in 2011;
  • More information can be found about the scheme here
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