Childcare costs and minimum needs

Signposts for future childcare costs can be confusing

It is really important for spouses or partners, when separating or divorcing, to consider the needs of their children.  Most family solicitors will focus on the childcare costs and ensuring that these costs, which are significant, over the years of a child’s minority, are met.

One of the difficulties in brokering such agreements is the perception sometimes encountered from the payers of maintenance that they are paying far too much.  Surely a child can’t cost that much to house, clothe and feed? The data available to lawyers is not always helpful and tends to focus on higher income families who may be looking at private school fees.

It is therefore timely, in light of present and future austerity planning that The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has just published research (with the help of the highly respected Joseph Rowntree Foundation) highlighting the costs of meeting a child’s minimum needs up to age 18.

Summary findings from the research

  • It costs £143,000 in total to bring up a child to age 18 and meet their minimum needs, which is around £150 a week (averaged for a child across all ages and including childcare costs and housing).
  • The basic cost of raising children has risen faster than inflation (CPI) in recent years, meaning that with wages falling behind and benefits being cut, Britain is moving backwards for the prosperity of our children. 
  • Childcare can add as much as £60k to the total cost of childhood. Childcare is one of the factors most responsible for the costs of children’s needs rising faster than inflation. The main state support for childcare costs is through tax credits and it was cut by 12.5% in April 2011. 
  • State support fails to ensure basic physical needs are met, leaving many families lacking sufficient funds for a healthy diet for the whole family and living in unhealthy housing conditions with problems like overcrowding and damp. The maximum support available only meets between 73% and 94% (depending on family composition) of basic costs for children.
  • A full-time job on National Minimum Wage is not enough to meet minimum costs for children. For single parent families, NMW leaves them with 89% of the basic requirement; and for couple families it is just 82% of the basic requirement (this is after benefits and tax credits have been included).
  • Child Benefit meets only 20% of childhood costs on average for couple families and just 18% for single parent families. Child Benefit has been frozen since 2010 and will have lost 10% of its value by 2014. Since the war, universal support with the cost of a child, first through family allowances and then child benefit, has been our national public commitment to all children. This universal arrangement will come to an end next year.
  • Having children leaves adults on benefits worse off. Additional state support for families with children is lower than a child’s minimum needs, so families face a growing shortfall with each child. Parents react by spending less money on themselves; in some cases parents will even skip meals so that their children don’t go without. If a single parent of three children used his/her adult benefit income to top up the child-related benefits so the minimum needs of the children are met, they would have just £12 a week to meet their own basic needs.
  • The cost of a child rises as they get older (excluding childcare costs). This is because of increased consumption needs – e.g. more food – and also because people believe children are less able to share a room with younger siblings once they reach adolescence. 
  • Costs are higher for single parents and, since cuts were implemented in 2010, the deterioration in income for single parents is worse than for couple families. A single parent has £107 less than they need and £166 less if they have three children.
  • Parents have modified their own expectations since the recession with fewer meals out and fewer presents for each other. Parents clearly prioritise children’s needs over their own. All acknowledge that life changes when you have children, you make more sacrifices, eat out less, life is less spontaneous and holidays abroad often come to an end. Parents also have less time available.

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