Meanwhile both Rotherham and Sheffield have seen a 17 per cent vacancy rate during the past five years. As councils up and down the UK consider how to breathe life back into our town centres, we’re urging the Government and local authorities to encourage nurseries to open in high street locations, including an exemption from business rates.
The payback for councils is that such an activity is likely to boost footfall in the high street and be a boon to local businesses. Other businesses nearby would also benefit.
But why is a pensions provider getting involved in issues like childcare?
While the subject of the gender pay gap rumbles on with increasing awareness of the problem, some of the focus is rightly shifting to the unjust and growing inequality between men and women’s pensions. By the time the average woman reaches retirement age, her pensions savings will be just a fifth of that of her male equivalent.
Women get short-changed in our pensions system because their patterns of work and pay are different from those of men. Salaries among women are lower than among men on average, and women are much more likely than men to experience lengthy career breaks and periods of part-time work, often as carers for children or elderly relatives.
Many parents with young families rely heavily on grandparents for childcare to continue working and earning. But those who don’t have access to this resource often work part-time or leave the workforce entirely, therefore either stopping or considerably lowering their pension contributions.
Our recent research found that more than four in 10 women in Yorkshire and the Humber who did not return to work after having children said it made more financial sense to stop working instead of paying for childcare, while 39 per cent of women in the region who returned to work with either a reduced role or reduced working hours after having children had the same issue.
Not returning to the workforce for an extended period or returning to work on reduced or part-time hours leads to lower pension contributions – the ‘Motherhood Penalty’.
Nearly four in 10 women with children aged 10 and under would be encouraged to return to work with the same role and working hours if affordable suitable childcare was available.
With the gender pensions gap more than double the size of the total gender pay gap, the Government needs to do more to ensure that women in Yorkshire and across the UK who want to remain in the workforce after having children can do so with equal opportunities.
There are several other ways we could help mums who want to work, making a single grant available to local authorities, in order to cover the real cost of the guaranteed 30-hours per week childcare for all three and four-year-olds. These 30 hours could also be guaranteed by making private nurseries exempt from business rates.
Universal Credit is much talked about and switching to upfront payments for childcare so that parents can afford to begin work and increasing the maximum amount of childcare costs paid for under the system would ensure lower-income parents are better off for every extra hour worked.
The conclusion is straightforward: While pension policy must do more, women from Yorkshire and across the country who want to return to work must be able to do so without crippling childcare costs.
Gregg McClymont is a former Shadow Pensions Minister and now the director of policy at The People’s Pension, a leading workplace pension provider in the UK with more than four million members.