Childcare and Work – The eternal conundrum

Here at Kids Bee Happy, we speak to mums and dads on a daily basis that are looking for a better way to balance their family, and who see the opportunity to run a family friendly franchise as an alternative to what we have come to call the “childcare blackhole”.  The BBC produced a really good feature on 8 radical solutions for childcare to support their recent Babies in the Office program, and the word that jumps out at me is “solutions” because there really is no quick fix.

It is very hard to afford to live in the UK with one one working parent.  With housing typically accounting for around 40% of a household income, the Stay at Home Parent is a option that many parents are simply practically deprived of.  So two working parents is the norm for most UK families.  But that doesn’t work either, not particularly well, for the vast majority of families in the UK, and i’ll explain why with two quick and simple statistics.

In the UK – The average full time working parent gets 4 weeks off work a year.  The average number of weeks that a primary school child has off school each year is 13.   The average wage in the UK is £24,000 yet the average cost of living for a family with 2 children is £36,000.  This is a very difficult circle for most families to square.

So what’s the solution then?

Well I believe that there isn’t a single solution.  Thousands of families all over the UK somehow manage to make it work.  Some cut back on their cost of living, giving up the “essential” items that have become part of 21st century life.  Some families recruit the help of grandparents who live nearby.  Some work fulltime plus to pay for the nanny to make sure that their child gets the 1-on-1 attention that they want it to have.    Me, I personally chose to switch to self employment (and do most of my work at night when the children were young).  Some are happy with how it works for them, and some are unhappy, and there lies the solution.

The “solution” is that as a society we need to embrace flexibility.  Our world is very different from the 1950’s where people could afford a stay at home parent.  In the 1950’s there wasn’t online, we didn’t work in a global society, we didn’t have mobile communications, we didn’t have companies providing 24 hours support, shops shut at 5pm and on Wednesday afternoons.  Our modern way of life has brought with it so many opportunities to just do things differently yet we cling rigidly to a full time/part time, 9-5 Monday to Friday traditional working pattern.

For example, no matter how hard the people would like it, employers can’t afford to pay employees 13 weeks holiday a year.  However, they could structure staffing so that employees had 13 weeks a year off and had their 39 weeks salary spread equally over 52 weeks.   Our town planners could start thinking about locating schools in office/retail areas of towns rather than residential areas.  What’s wrong from working from 9-3 and then catching up with the rest at weekends and evenings.  Why do we have to work 40 hours a week?  Why can’t we work x numbers a month, and allow people complete those hours through the month in a way that suits both employer and employee, some weeks working more, some weeks working less.  Why does everyone have to be employed?  Why can’t the government and the Inland Revenue change the rules and let employers and employees increase flexibility through using self employment and contracting.

Why does full time have to be 9-5pm?  Why can’t it be 7am to 3pm or 11am to 7pm – just imagine, if if two parents could both work full time, yet one parent could take the children to school in the morning, and the other could pick them up at 3pm, do the homework and have time to spend with them.  Imagine, if the parents could switch those hours flexibly without issue, so that each parent gets to spend decent time with their children midweek and no-one has to pay for childcare.

Why can’t we do this?  What’s stopping us?  Who is losing out? What systems would come crashing to halt if we did?

If you contacted me and work and were told that I worked a core schedule of 9 – 3 in the office every week day, and then flexibly and remotely outside of those hours – would think me any less professional at my job?

And that to me seems the problem with childcare.  As a society we seem to be trying to address a modern complex problem with a one fix 50 year old solution.   I believe that our working practises have put up immovable barriers and that we no longer know why they are there, and instead of taking incremental legislative steps to address this what we do really need is that brave “blank sheet of paper”, the radical approaches that turn it all on the head and do it differently.

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