Could affordable childcare boost the UK economy?

STORY: Last year, mother-of-two Louise Sharples found herself turning down a new job she knew she would love - because when she added up the cost of full-time childcare for her young daughters, it was more than she would have earned.

After 12 years as a charity shop manager, Sharples has now taken a part-time but slightly better paid cleaning job until her children are older.

"It's not really a job that I would choose, but I felt for the good of my family and for that little bit more flexibility it was something that I needed to do. I do feel a bit like I put my career on hold since having children, based on the cost of childcare basically. I feel like I've taken a bit of a step back and I probably won't take another step forward until both of them are in school."

A childcare bill of around $963 leaves her with around $118 of her wage at the end of the month.

She's not alone. A survey of 24,000 parents published this month by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed found 76% of mothers who pay for childcare say it no longer makes financial sense for them to work.

But with more than 1.1 million jobs unfilled in Britain, business groups and researchers argue that acting on childcare in the upcoming budget could unlock greater economic growth.

The Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) think tank estimates that around 1.5 million British moms would work more hours if childcare permitted.

And a report in December by the Institute for Public Policy Research and charity Save the Children estimated that accessible, affordable childcare from six months to age 11...

would provide returns over $9.4 billion a year in tax contributions and reduced social security spending.

Rachel Statham, associate director for work and welfare state at the IPPR.

"We also know there's longer term economic benefits and that's particularly and across the labor market when you see that women particularly who are most be pushed to drop out of work due to care costs, able to stay in work, able to progress in work, and there will be real economic benefits from not seeing that loss of talent across our laborr market."

Children's charity Coram says the average annual price for full-time nursery childcare in England for a child under two was more than $16,500 in 2022.

That makes Britain's childcare among the most expensive in the world, according to the OECD, taking up nearly 30% of the income of a couple with two young children.

The government is reportedly considering reforms, but has not announced any plans as it fights to bring down its deficit in a cost of living crisis.

But with a British election expected next year, the opposition Labour Party views childcare as a key battleground.