Millions of working parents face steep childcare bills or 'winging it' to keep working

5 min read

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Becky O'Connor

Personal Finance Specialist


Schools in England are closed from today until further notice, staying open only for 1.5 million vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

Millions of home-working parents are left facing difficult decisions on how to balance childcare and work. They could choose to draft in outside childcare, which could cost around £240 per child per week**, use online tutors or try to work flexibly around their children’s care and/or home schooling needs.

Tax-Free Childcare that gives parents a 25 per cent top-up on childcare bills, offering up to £2,000 a year, is the only widely available form of Government help for childcare costs and can be accessed through the government website here. However many ad hoc and individual childcare providers are not signed up to this scheme, meaning parents will not be able to benefit from the top-up.

  • Prime Minister has urged parents not to request childcare help from vulnerable grandparents or other relatives
  • Key worker-only childcare available, but this only covers school hours while key worker shifts may be at other times
  • There are 10,100 nannies in the UK*
  • Babysitters and nannies who are asked into homes may be at (or pose) a health risk
  • Parents who do find emergency childcare that does not put others at risk of ill health face bills of £240 a week per child approx*
  • Risk of parents using inappropriate or unqualified childcare support
  • Royal London urges employers to be understanding and flexible 


  • 2 million pre-school children in England
  • 4.7 million children in state-funded primary schools
  • 8.8 million children in all state and independent primary and secondary schools in England***
  • 5.25 million families with children aged 0 to 14****
  • This means more than 10 million parents, and their employers, will be affected by nursery and school closures because of the need to care for their children while they are off school, after school care or nursery
  • 35 per cent of parents use ‘informal’ childcare (ie. grandparents) ***
  • 640,000 0 to 4-year olds are usually cared for by grandparents****

Becky O’Connor, personal finance specialist, said: “The closure of schools has grounded millions of working parents, forcing them to juggle childcare, home schooling and their own work demands."

“Some parents will try to draft in nannies, tutors and babysitters, however these solutions all come at a cost."

"Even key workers who can take their children to school during the day face childcare dilemmas and possibly costs at other times of day."

"The alternative to using additional childcare is to try to ‘wing it’ and work around the kids, which could pose a huge strain. Employer flexibility and understanding will be key to such arrangements working indefinitely."

“For most, there is no decision to be made – they will simply have to react to their personal circumstances and do what they can. They can’t leave young children at home and they may not be able to afford or access additional childcare so they will simply have to stop working with immediate effect."

On informal care from grandparents

“Given the advice to avoid non-essential contact, the usual support network – grandparents or other relatives –  isn’t there for many, without putting the health of others at risk."

“Hundreds of thousands of parents rely on grandparents for childcare."

“The government advice was clear - that families must not put vulnerable relatives at risk by asking them for childcare."

“Whether parents can still call on relatives will depend on whether anyone in the household has symptoms, as well as the ability of family members to leave their own homes depending on age and other vulnerability factors. It’s a discussion for families to have and will vary from household to household.”

“Parents will need to exercise careful judgment on any childcare they choose to put in place, if they are able to use any at all."

“Nannies and babysitters may be on stand-by but no parent should feel forced to use childcare that is not right for their family or that they cannot afford.”

The extent to which parents will be affected will depend on:                                                       

  • Age of children
  • Ability to work from home
  • Ability to access alternative childcare
  • Partner’s occupation
  • Whether single parents or in a couple

Among the worst-hit parents will be: 

  • Those who must either work from home or not work at all, who have younger children who cannot be left alone for any period of time and cannot access external childcare support
  • Single parents
  • Quarantined or self-isolated families, who cannot allow external childcare providers into their homes
  • Londoners who are less likely to have any informal childcare arrangement available, compared with parents in other regions who are more likely to live closer to parents/ in-laws******
  • Those who cannot afford nannies, tutors or babysitters, which can be more expensive than typical childcare in an external setting

Those parents who are less affected likely to be:

  • Those with older children who are more self-sufficient
  • Parents who can easily work from home flexibly

Possible alternative arrangements for childcare, depending on degree of social-distancing in place, could involve:

  • Qualified nursery staff agreeing to paid work caring for children in family homes
    Nannies or babysitters
  • Other younger relatives or friends coming to help
  • Some grandparents who are not at risk, ie. younger grandparents and who are still willing to help offering support
  • For home learning, online tutorials or tutor visits

Notes to Editors

*Childcare providers and inspections

**Schools, pupils and their characteristics: January 2019:

***Data from Childcare survey 2018

****Calculations based on CORAM Family and Childcare Trust report 2020- cost of childminder for school age children Costs vary according to age of child. Fewer hours of childcare per week costs per hour tend to be higher than the cost of childcare in settings due to economies of scale.

*****Data sources: Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents in England, 2019 – data on formal and informal childcare in the early years:

Overall, in 2019 , 76% of children in England aged 0 to 4 had received some form of childcare during their most recent termtime week (Table 1.3), equating to 1,944,000 children (Table 1.2).

-  33% of those receiving childcare aged 0 to 4 receive “informal” childcare ie from grandparents (29%) another relative (5%) – that’s 640,000 children aged 0 to 4 alone who are usually cared for by grandparents.

- Demand for childcare in London working paper

For further information please contact:

Lucy Field, Press Officer

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