In the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking something I never thought I’d think.
Is Bristol’s family-friendly brand just skin-deep?
Bristol had beaten London to the post in a survey of which UK city has the most expensive childcare.
As usual, the statement belies the facts. Childcare here isn’t more expensive, it’s that we bring in less money in total and things cost lust as much. The conclusion was drawn using data on people’s salaries versus the average cost of childcare, and here, in Bristol, we spend, on average, 55.5% of our wages on childcare. Londoners spend 0.3% less. I won’t bore you with the rest of the details.
We are undeniably, on the face of it, a family friendly city. I spend half my week writing about it, and the other half living it. As a group of people, we can make anything family-friendly, from zombie walks to protest marches.
So why can’t we get our childcare right? Why is it so hard?
Childcare provisioners are trying. They are battling over-subscription, inadequate government subsidy, a huge lack of suitable settings in Bristol, and a workforce driven by almost nothing but vocation, because there is precious little money in caring for our kids. They are trying to get it right. People like Caboodle, for example, are flying the flag for working parents who need flexible childcare. Nursery chains across Bristol are sagging under supply and demand. I spoke to two people yesterday who put their kids name down with reputable childminders before birth.
In Bristol, we earn less than in London, that’s why our childcare costs our household more. Our housing market and cost of living is very close to that of the capital. Our wages are not. So, at the root of the reasons we live here – to give our families the life we hoped for – is the most deeply un family-friendly root cause of unhappiness – lack of money, or in many cases, downright poverty.
Don’t forget, Government data showed in August this year that one in four kids in Bristol is living in poverty
Some of us have to work and give over more than half our household income, according to that survey, to our children’s care. Many many more Bristolian parents want to work, but can’t because they can’t make those figures work. I can only imagine that frustration, and how isolated and angry that makes people feel. Because, the biggest irony – you want to do right by your kids, show them that work matters, that you want to provide, and you can’t.
It’s time for action. So, what can we do? We can change the things within our control, as citizens of Bristol.
Talk to your employer – actually, don’t just talk, lobby, for flexible working. You have the legal right to ask for it, and it could mean some fundamental savings for your family. Condensed hours, flexi-time, four day weeks, working in the location of your choice, all these things could shave costs off your childcare.
Engage your community – look for gaps in the provision near you and stand up, and try to get them filled. My local primary school opened a playgroup in the school hall on a Friday, which turned into a pre-school within one school year, once it was realised the need was very definitely there. The government isn’t going to cut us any slack here, it’s up to us to change this, with each other’s help.
Ask your MP what they are doing – this year, I’ve learned that all our representative MPs, even the ones you really don’t want to agree with (my MP is Rees Mogg, for goodness’ sakes) really do want to listen. Plus, take a look, most of our Bristol MPs are women, and pretty immense ones at that. They want to support you, I do believe that. Help them by telling them what you need.
Talk about this in positive terms – we need something changing, so let’s change it, rather than sit and rage about it. Look at what we achieve in Bristol when we get together for other family friendly things – from the School cuts march to the Junk Modelling on College Green in the pouring rain this year. We represent.
Lastly – do what you can to help personally. I am certified terrible at entertaining other people’s kids, but, it can’t be that scary, can it? Maybe you’ve got a friend who could attend that job interview if you took her kids for two hours? Maybe that friend of your daughter’s could come for tea after school each week so her Dad could study longer. Who knows. Let’s ask more.
I want Bristol to be known as a family-friendly city from its core – its employers, its politicians, its support services. I don’t want to read that the cost of childcare is crippling us anymore, because it’s going to drive people away, talented, useful people, and their children, who are all facing the same crisis here.
Let’s do what we can for our bigger family, Bristol itself.