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July 22, 2022updated 31 Mar 2023 1:14pm

How the UK’s cost-of-living crisis is hitting the summer holidays

Millions of children across the UK are set for the summer holidays – but how is it being impacted by the cost-of-living crisis?

By katharine swindells

Across the country, millions of children will be watching films and playing games on their last day of school, ahead of six weeks of summer holidays. But while that may conjure up images of beaches and ice cream, for many families the reality is far less sunny – particularly with the UK’s cost-of-living-crisis. At least 30% of children say their family cannot afford a week’s holiday a year, according to data from the DWP, rising to over half of children in the poorest quintile of the UK.

Child at home during the summer holidays in the UK cost-of-living crisis
Many parents may be forced to give up work or reduce their hours. (Photo by Art Marie/iStock)

Inflation is continuing to rise, with the ONS announcing on 20 July that annual CPI has reached 9.4%, and the combination of the cost-of-living crisis and the long school holidays will be a source of stress for many.

Last week it was revealed that the government holiday free school meal provision, which was brought in during the pandemic amid a high-profile media campaign by food poverty activists and English footballer Marcus Rashford, would be slashed to as little as £1.66 a day in some areas, leaving charities, foodbanks and businesses to pick up the shortfall.

And while families are seeing their own energy bills, rents, food shop costs and national insurance contributions go up, so are nurseries and summer holiday clubs, meaning that the cost of childcare through the summer holidays is rising too.

“Families across Britain will be bracing themselves for a really difficult summer this year,” says Ellen Broomé, managing director of Coram Family and Childcare Trust. “There’s been a really sharp rise in holiday childcare prices and some really patchy availability of holiday childcare if you can’t afford to pay for it, and they will really hit working parents this summer. That will obviously add additional pressure to already rocketing household expenses, just as families struggle with record inflation and rising bills.”

How much is childcare in the summer holidays?

The latest data from the Coram Family and Childcare Holiday Survey found that, across England, holiday childcare now averages £148 a week, an increase of 4% compared with summer 2021. In London and the south-east of the country, where holiday childcare is among the most expensive in the country, the average weekly cost has gone up by 10%.

Six weeks of holiday childcare for a family in inner London will cost over £960 per child, which is around £570 more than they would usually pay for six weeks of term-time after-school club childcare. And alongside the rise in costs, there has also been a decline in the availability and sufficiency of holiday childcare across the country, which was already a pain point in many regions.

Across England, only 29% of local authorities reported that they have holiday childcare sufficient “in all areas” for children aged four to seven. This drops to 25% in outer London, and 9% in inner London. Across England, holiday childcare sufficiency for parents working full-time has dropped by percentage points down to 27% of local authorities, and in outer London is less than a fifth. For parents working atypical hours, only one in ten English local authorities say they have sufficient holiday childcare, and only 6% in outer London.

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The direst access to childcare is for parents of disabled children, where only 7% of local authorities say holiday childcare is sufficient “in all areas” a decline from 17% in 2021. In outer London, zero local authorities have sufficient holiday childcare for disabled children.

“This really tells you something about the challenges that providers have faced over the last few years in terms of providing childcare in a way that is cost effective for them and enables them to stay in business and the parents can still pay for,” says Broomé.

If holiday childcare is too expensive or too difficult to access, Broomé says many parents, particularly mothers, will be forced to give up work or reduce their hours. Parents who are able to work from home may opt to have their children at home with them while they work, but this will not only make it more difficult for them to focus on their jobs, but also will likely mean children spend more of their summer inside on electronic devices, rather than outside.

“Holiday childcare is a really perfect opportunity to offer a safe and fun space for children to stay active and to learn to connect with friends, while also helping to tackle that summer learning loss that we see every year,” Broomé says.

Cost is a barrier to sufficient exercise for kids

Research by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) found that, even in term time, cost is a significant barrier for parents when it comes to making sure their young children get enough physical exercise. The official recommended amount of exercise for children aged one to five is three hours per day, but a survey by the EIF found that less than a fifth of children are getting that amount. Among children in families with a total gross income of less than £30,000, the proportion getting the recommended amount of exercise falls to just 13%.

Among all parents of children aged one to five, 16% said the main factor preventing their child from doing more physical activity was the cost of accessing physical activity spaces, rising to 20% among families with a household income of under £30,000.

“Cost is a particular factor preventing more physical activity amongst children under six,” says Max Stanford, acting assistant director of evidence at the Early Intervention Foundation. “The cost of living crisis therefore could discourage parents from taking young children to indoor or outdoor play areas, such as public parks, indoor play centres and children’s centres, and further worsen health disparities.”

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