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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 21:08 GMT
The price of parenthood
Children at a nursery
British parents pay the highest childcare fees in Europe
A report by a leading children's charity in the UK, The Daycare Trust, has found that British parents pay the highest childcare bills in Europe.

BBC News Online's Kathryn Westcott speaks to three families in France, Sweden and the UK to see how they compare.

Click below to read their stories


Laurence White and his French wife Carole live with their two sons Alexander, 4, and Stanley, 2, outside Paris.

They relocated from London a short-time ago - a move partly motivated by the soaring cost of childcare in Britain and what they describe as good, heavily subsidised childcare in France.

"We coped well in England when we had our first child, but the cost of two children at a private nursery was unmanageable," said Laurence.

The cost of childcare in the UK is a powerful argument for you to stay away until the children are able to go to state school

Laurence White
"My wife and I were on a combined net income of 36,000 ($58,000) and the nursery was costing about 10,000 ($15,000) a year. It was almost twice what we were spending on our mortgage."

Heather works in advertising, while Laurence is looking for a job. But even on one income, childcare is affordable.

Most people send their pre-school children to state-subsidised nurseries or creches, says Laurence. Parents pay a contribution but for most medium-range earners, this is an average of 8 euros ($7) a day, including lunch.

"The contribution is income-related, but even the high earners pay a fraction of what they would pay in the UK," he says.

Alexander is in the pre-school year at the local state primary school. Stanley is looked after by a childminder for four days a week, which costs the Whites about 362 euros a month ($312).

"The cost of childcare in the UK is a powerful argument for you to stay away until the children are able to go to state school," Laurence concludes.

(click here to return)


David Bainbridge works at Ericsson in Sweden. He lives with his wife Heather and six-year-old daughter Evelyn in Haninge outside Stockholm.

He believes Sweden leads the way in excellent, heavily state-subsidised childcare.

"Children don't tend to go into childcare before they are a year old because mothers have extremely good maternity benefits," says David.

Childcare is seen as a basic service, it is as much a part of the infrastructure of going out to work as decent transport.

David Bainbridge
Evelyn is in the now reception year at her state school but, like most Swedish children, she used to attend a state-subsidised kindergarten.

"The kindergartens are located near residential areas and are open from 6.00am to fit in with parents' working hours," says David. "The children are given breakfast and lunch and the food is included in the contribution the parents pay."

"Last year, we paid about 1,500 Swedish Kroner ($150) per month. But the cost of childcare has been capped since the beginning of this year, so last month we paid 600 Kroner ($60)."

Parents contribute a percentage of their gross income to the government for each child at a state-subsidised nursery, but the percentage is reduced with each extra child. There is also a ceiling on how much tax can be paid.

The most a family with one child would pay is about 1,300 Kroner ($180) a month, says David. And the most a family with three or more children attending state nursery would pay is around 3,000 Kroner ($300).

"The idea is that people need good, affordable childcare so they can rejoin the workforce. It is seen as a basic service. It is as much a part of the infrastructure of going out to work as decent transport. There would be an uproar if it was cut."

"Paying for childcare is not such a burden as, say, in the UK, so people don't have to work as many hours to pay for it," he says.

"Many people are even opting to cut their hours and their wages so they can spend more time with their families."

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Many parents in the UK blame the government for not giving enough support to mothers wanting to return to work as more and more families find they are unable to afford quality childcare.

Isabel Lloyd, a freelance journalist who lives in London, is married with two boys Jack, 7, and Tom, 5.

She recently edited a magazine for WH Smith called Choosing the Right Childcare. She describes her pre-school childcare over the years as expensive and unsatisfactory.

"I opted for a nanny because I went back to work when my first baby was very young. But even if I had wanted a nursery, there were very few places available in my area," says Isabel.

On the one hand the government says 'lets get mothers back to work' but on the other hand it is not prepared to put its money where its mouth is

Isabel Lloyd
"Private nurseries in big cities are expensive because the rents are high and the cost gets passed on down the line. There are a handful of state-funded nurseries, but these tend to be for a very small percentage of people on low incomes."

A leading children's charity in the UK, the Daycare Trust, has found that the average cost of a nursery place for a child under two years of age stands at about $9,000 - a rise of nearly 10% since last year.

Demand for nursery places has far exceeded supply and there is currently only one place for every seven children under the age of eight.

Some people are forced to find alternative care, such as nannies. But with a nanny in London commanding a salary of more than $30,000 a year, this is an expensive option.

Isabel says she moved from working three days a week to four to help cover the childcare costs, but this wasn't worth it in the end.

"The cost of childcare just went up and up and my salary couldn't keep pace," she says. "I was under enormous pressure to give up. After paying for my childcare and travel, I was left with about $100 at the end of the month."

"There is very little support in this country. Many people are forced to opt for informal childcare because the options are so expensive. There is a lot of 'granny help' and friends helping each other out."

She says most mothers she knows work for virtually nothing. Instead, they are looking to the long term and maintaining their careers.

She believes the government approaches the problem of childcare in a very "piecemeal" way.

"On the one hand the government says 'lets get mothers back to work' but on the other hand it is not prepared to put its money where its mouth is."

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