Can I afford to work and pay for childcare?

Childcare is one of the biggest costs families with young children face. You might be wondering if you can afford to go to work and pay for childcare, whether to work full time or part time and what extra help is available.

Looking at the different options and planning ahead will help you find a balance that’s right for you and your family.

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Going back to work after parental leave

It’s up to you when you go back to work after having a baby or adopting. You can take up to 52 weeks leave and get statutory pay for up to 39 weeks. If you share parental responsibility with a partner, you should be eligible to share parental leave and pay between you. Statutory pay will be less than your normal salary, unless your employer offers an enhanced parental leave package; so, a lot of parents find they want or need to go back to work earlier.

It’s normal to have mixed feelings about going back to work after parental leave. You might feel excited to get back to work, but also feel worried or anxious about being apart from your baby. Worries about money can add extra pressure to the decision to go back to work or not. If you find that the cost of childcare while you work will leave you with little money left, you might be left wondering if it’s worth going back to work at all.

When you return to work, you are entitled to request a change to your working pattern, such as part time or flexible working. Your employer doesn’t have to accept your request, but they must consider it. Citizen’s Advice has information about applying for flexible working. If your employer has given you enhanced pay while you have been on leave, you are usually expected to return to work for an agreed period. If you decide not to go back to work, you might have to repay all or some of the money.

Working and childcare options

There’s no ‘right way’ to do it when it comes to work and childcare. When choosing what is right for you and your family, you’ll need to look at all your options and work out what is affordable and feels right for you.

  • Think about how much you’d ideally like to work and look at how much you will get paid each month if you work full time or part time. You can use a salary calculator to find out how much you’ll get paid.
  • If you have a partner, look at both your salaries. Is it more cost effective for one of you to work full time and the other part time? Or could you both work part time to cover more childcare?
  • Can you work from home? You won’t be able to work and look after your child at the same time but working at home could give you more flexibility around childcare.
  • Look at childcare costs. This will vary depending on the type of childcare you choose. For example, employing a nanny in your home will cost a lot more than a childminder or day nursery. Look at the different types of childcare and their costs.
  • Find out what is included in the cost. Is it available 52 weeks a year or term time only? Do they charge extra for meals, snacks, nappies or days out?
  • Find out what extra help you can get with paying for childcare costs and if you’re entitled to any benefits.
  • Look for other ways to save money on childcare. If grandparents or other family members are available, could they take care of your child once a week? Or could you share childcare with another parent, so you look after each other’s children on different days?
  • To decide which option is most affordable, use a budgeting tool to work out your budget.

Can I get free childcare?

The support offered by the government to pay for childcare is changing. Find out about the extra childcare support announced in the 2023 budget.

The Government’s Childcare Choices website explains the types of childcare funding, who is eligible and how to apply. There are different schemes, depending on where in the UK you live and how old your child is. In England:

  • All 3 and 4 year olds can get 15 hours free childcare a week. They can get 30 hours free childcare a week, if their parents are working, depending on their income.
  • 2 year olds whose parents are receiving benefits can get 15 hours free childcare a week. From April 2024 this will be extended to all 2 year olds.
  • From September 2024, children from 9 months will be able to get 15 hours free childcare.
  • From September 2025, all eligible children under 5 will be able to get 30 hours free childcare.

The 15 or 30 hours free childcare is for 38 weeks of the year (during term-time), but a lot of childcare providers will let you spread this out across the year. The funding only covers your child’s education and care, so the childcare provider can ask you to pay for meals and activities. You will also need to pay full fees for any extra hours on top of your 15 or 30 hours allowance.

The childcare setting has to be an approved childcare provider. You can also save money on childcare fees using tax free childcare.

If you’re worried about childcare costs

Worries about work and childcare costs can be overwhelming. You can read our articles on coping with money worries and talking to your partner or ex-partner about money.

If you’re struggling with the cost of living, you can speak to your local citizens advice or visit their website if you are struggling to pay your bills.

Turn2Us and Help for Households also offer support with the cost of living.

If you’re struggling with money and it’s making you stressed or anxious, you can speak to one of our parenting coaches.

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