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"How mothers can make it work"

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I’ve tried them all – nursery, childminder, nanny – and, now that my children are older, I’m a working mother without any childcare at all. I wish I had better news, but come the secondary school years, there is almost no relevant support and things improve little. OK, so I no longer have baby rice smeared on me but I do have teen angst, hormones and forgotten homework. All while I’m trying to increase my company’s year-end bottom line by 20%.

I claim no prizes for knowing the stress of working motherhood. Over half of the 2,000 entrepreneurs I work with say childcare presents huge challenges. So while the government is relying on start-ups to get the economy on track, and women are recognised as great business people, getting our children cared for while we do it is increasingly expensive. Every working parent knows the costs.

EXPENSIVE NECESSITY

When we started, my business partner Holly and I needed to put every penny into the business – instead, our biggest outgoing was childcare. Weekly, a nursery is £180. Indeed, Daycare Trust’s 2011 report found childcare costs are up by six times the inflation rate and yet government support has reduced. Yes, there’s income tax relief on childcare if your household income is less than £40,000. There’s 15 hours per week of free early years education, plus childcare vouchers (though not if you’re self-employed), a smattering of state-subsidised daycare centres and a mixed bag of after-school clubs.

A FLEXIBLE FUTURE

What we don’t get is flexibility and quality. There are not enough places – or hours (I defy anyone to transform the economy in just 15 hours a week).

So what’s the answer? Income tax relief on childcare costs must improve, but the overall culture of working parenthood must change. For proof that it can be done just look to Sweden where childcare is plentiful, flexible and parents spend no more than 3% of their salary on childcare, with parents sharing 480 days’ leave over eight years, easing the burden on both mothers and employers. With 70 employees at notonthehighstreet.com, 80% of them female, I know how critical that is to both our commercial success and their career progression.

It is going to get better when more women take lead business roles. What’s certain is that childcare is an investment in your family’s future: even if you barely break even in those tough early years, your salary is likely to be significantly higher long term if you stick with it until the cost – if not the hassle – starts to ease.

Main picture credit: Rex Features

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