How startups can help to solve the childcare crisis
Britain’s parents are paying to work.
The cost of childcare in the UK is among the highest in the world. According to a new report from PwC, it represents nearly one-third of a family's income on average wages. Recently announced subsidies might temporarily ease the cost burden, but critics say the scheme is limited, acting as more of a bandage than a lasting solution.
In the UK, millions of people, including many parents, remain ‘locked out’ of employment due to their personal circumstances. This is a significant missed opportunity for Britain’s economy – and for the startup community. Many startups are pushing for solutions to drive greater workforce inclusiveness, not least because the entrepreneurial community understands that getting the right talent early on is vital for success.
The question is: what do the best solutions look like?
While supplementing childcare is essential, it’s not the end of the conversation. We should be able to work around our responsibilities, and flexibility of time and location is what enables talent to make the most impact at work today. Remote work can offer this flexibility, making it one of the most effective weapons in the battle against the childcare crisis.
Consciously designed remote work - that is, remote work with the right training, tools and operational setup - enables parents to balance their job and family commitments without burning out. However, to unlock the full potential of this approach, a new kind of social and cultural infrastructure is required, one that is fit for the modern workforce.
Politicians and the media are fixated on the “home vs. office” debate. But we’ve been advocating for the development of family-friendly community workspaces that will enable parents to work remotely outside of the home. That’s because robust life-work boundaries are so important for maintaining one’s mental and physical wellbeing. And, while many parents would and do readily risk burning out if it means they’re able to access work opportunities, nobody should have to choose between their kids, livelihoods, and wellbeing. Community workspaces remove this dilemma by enabling a more healthy, flexible and family-oriented approach to balancing our lives and our jobs.
The good news is that there has been recent progress towards this vision, with flexible work hubs emerging that now include onsite nurseries. One example is B_Together, a space that caters to the needs of working parents with childcare assistance and educational programmes. For this to be an equitable solution, however, businesses must make these spaces more accessible by providing monthly stipends to cover membership costs. Otherwise, only a privileged few will be able to experience the benefits. Companies that already offer coworking stipends as a key benefit include Spotify, and HR tech unicorn Remote, making it a proven, tangible and effective business policy that recruiters can advocate for today.
I believe that hubs like B_Together are only the beginning, and soon governments will want to create community workspaces in rural and underserved areas. But it starts with more companies getting behind this approach and helping to unlock effective ‘third spaces’ for all workers via coworking stipends. That’s how we make consciously designed remote work a reality at scale; through a collective effort from businesses, policymakers, and individuals.
By embracing remote work and developing family-focused community workspaces, the UK can take a meaningful step towards solving the childcare crisis. This could help to transform our culture's relationship with work into one that prioritises the flourishing of individuals, families, and local areas. Parents will be able to balance their life and work commitments, reduce childcare costs, and millions more people would be able to enter the workforce.
Startups, by their nature, are always on the look out for the best talent. They’re seeing the impacts of the childcare crisis firsthand, and tangibly benefiting from deploying the flexible working policies that their corporate competitors are often too slow to adopt. In doing so, startup leaders are also contributing to a more fair, healthy, and inclusive workforce. So, why stop now? Coworking stipends - in addition to the right to work remotely in the first place - will become a reality for everybody if enough people demand it. The startup community is well-positioned to lead the way in implementing innovative solutions to the evolving nature of work. By doing so, we can create a future of work that truly works for everyone.