Budget childcare plans are like using a dustpan to sort out an earthquake: Emma White

The Government’s response to the childcare crisis in the Budget was underwhelming, to say the least. It’s like bringing a dustpan to sort out an earthquake.

Fundamentally I love running a small business. The holy grail of every working mother – flexible working – is mine for the taking. I get to all the school events, even the ones I’d rather sidestep. Most importantly though, I love what I do.

Designing and making jewellery and teaching others to do so is my dream job and I am grateful every day that I get to make a living this way. But there are challenges.

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Thanks to Brexit, a huge hike in the price of precious metal and the loss of the free trade agreement essentially killed off the sales we used to make into Europe. At the same time we battled through lockdown and Covid-19. As two business people, my husband and I saw our income streams freeze, with the first lockdown announcement. My classes stopped dead and my photographer husband saw his diary empty before you could say ‘please don’t shut the schools’.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledged to tackle labour shortages and get people back to work when he delivered his Budget on Wednesday.Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledged to tackle labour shortages and get people back to work when he delivered his Budget on Wednesday.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledged to tackle labour shortages and get people back to work when he delivered his Budget on Wednesday.

When home-schooling began, my role as ‘jewellery teacher of enthusiastic adults’ transformed into ‘I-have-no-idea-what-a-fronted-adverbial-is, reluctant home school teacher of three bewildered children’.

Now a massive increase in the cost of living means that money is tight for everyone. Jewellery is a luxury in anyone’s book. For my small business though, it has been an odd and uncharacteristic six months, because of my success on the BBC series All That Glitters. I saw a huge response to my business in the last three months of last year, at a level I had never experienced before.

I have grown into a bigger studio space and now teach about 50 people a week to make jewellery. This surreal time has skewed my perspective of normal but as I emerge from this temporary bubble, I am not and never will be complacent. Our bills have shot up and the prices of our tools have increased, doubled even. All this at a time when customers are feeling the pinch and are ever more mindful of their spending. With my fancy new (expensive) studio, I am concerned.

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But I have to say though that as a mother, with three primary school aged children there is nothing that presents a larger obstacle to the success of my business, than the lack of affordable and flexible childcare. As someone who has been in business for 23 years and has had the need for childcare for almost half of those years, the limitations of my childcare arrangements has meant me working short and therefore unproductive days, or basically working to pay for childcare.

This is not a new problem, nor an uncommon one, but it is such a far-reaching and important issue that affects so many parents in this country.

I am fully behind the campaigns to have childcare labelled as an ‘infrastructure’ as important as roads to our ability to work. To encourage governments to support childcare and employers to support flexible working. Until we have that in place we are not just climbing a mountain on the way to success, we are looking up at the mountain and starting the climb without the right footwear or even a decent parka.

We are not superheroes, mumpreneurs or wonder woman, we are drowning and when you add that into the current financial pressures it is an absolute miracle that we are still in business at all.

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As I look forward to the next few years I am concerned for the cost of living, I worry about my heating bills at home and at work, but mostly I look forward to the time when my children don’t need childcare after school.

Emma White has a jewellery workshop and teaching space in Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley and was a finalist on BBC show All That Glitters.