Stephanie Smith: Children - where does the time, and the money, go?

The more you have, they more they cost (and the more they give, of course, in so many ways). The BBC's Outnumbered series was one many parents identified with - pictured (L-R) are Hugh Dennis, Ramona Marquez, Tyger Drew-Honey and Chris Geere.
The more you have, they more they cost (and the more they give, of course, in so many ways). The BBC's Outnumbered series was one many parents identified with - pictured (L-R) are Hugh Dennis, Ramona Marquez, Tyger Drew-Honey and Chris Geere.
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New York is where my son is spending his half-term break. All right for some. He’s on a school trip costing more than £1,000, plus spending money. My daughter took a similar trip a couple of years ago. Two lucky – some might say, privileged – kids.

My own school trip experience took place in Borrowdale, staying in bell tents by the side of a freezing stream in which we had to bathe each morning, before a 10-mile trudge across barren terrain shrouded in mist and pelted with rain. I know where I’d rather be.

But a legacy paid for my children’s school trips. They wouldn’t have gone otherwise, because we had no spare money, just huge debts which had been accumulating since their birth. And no, we have never enjoyed anything like a lavish lifestyle with expensive holidays, gadgets galore and seasonal wardrobe updates (more’s the pity). Our house cost far less than most family homes in the area. The children have been state-educated (and all the better for it).

Years of childcare costs took their toll, however. When my daughter, now 21, was a baby, it cost £500 a month for her to go to nursery while I worked full time. A single parent back then, I had no choice and very little other regular financial help (although Mum and Dad stepped in). The financial burden eased a bit once I met my now husband, but when her brother came along, I went part-time. Paying £1,000 a month in childcare was not an option. Part-time fees were tough, and then came years of after-school fees, holiday clubs, drama clubs, swimming and music lessons – not loads, just normal activities.

I’ve just looked up the current fees for the nursery my daughter used to go to – £990 a month is what it would cost now full-time, just for her, with a 10 per cent discount for her brother. I wouldn’t be able to afford that, then or now.

As a parent, you do wonder where the money goes, but really there is no mystery. A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research finds this week that raising a child in Yorkshire from birth to 21 costs £214,559, with parents typically spending £62,224 of that on childcare before school age. The charity Action for Children says parents are struggling during these expense peaks and urges them to seek help before “spiralling into significant debt”. Six in 10 parents admit they find it hard to manage their outgoings.

So there we have it. Most UK parents cannot afford to have children, yet still they continue to do so, which is a blessing for the economy, for growth and for the future of us all. Parents need more help, and they deserve it. It’s high time they got it.

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