Majority of parents are having to use annual leave to cover childcare commitments

Employers are being encouraged to offer more support to working parents, as a survey shows many are using annual leave in lieu of proper childcare options.

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Helena Young

Most working parents in the UK say they have had to use their holiday entitlement to take time off for childcare duties, as the early years crisis makes it impossible for those with care responsibilities to find an appropriate provider.

According to the latest annual ‘Work + Family‘ report by global nursery provider Bright Horizons, the problem has got so bad that 67% of working parents have resorted to using annual leave to cover childcare.

Earlier this year, the government pledged to do more to support working parents in its Spring Budget. But the Bright Horizons research indicates that lacklustre policies have done little to slow the collapse of the childcare sector, putting pressure on employers to fill the gap.

It takes an office to raise a child

Analysis by the National Day Nurseries Association shows an 87% rise in the number of nurseries that shut down between 2021 and 2022.

Being able to access childcare is becoming one of the most sought-after employee benefits and perks in the UK, as a shortage of providers makes it impossible for parents to find their child a coveted nursery spot based close to where they live – and, even more unlikely, one they can afford.

According to an employee survey by, the average nursery fee for parents in the UK has increased by £50-£100 in the past year. It now sits at around £153 per week – or 25% of the average weekly wage for a private sector employee.

Paradoxically, many UK parents can no longer afford to stay in work as, the more time spent away from their children, the steeper their nursery or childminder costs. Progressive businesses are waking up to the threat and investing in childcare as a workplace benefit.

This approach has a dual benefit. It gives time and money back to the employee, while allowing the firm to prevent experienced talent from quitting the workforce.

In fact, a survey by hiring platform Indeed has found that 44% of parents considering a return to the workforce think free childcare would incentivise them to look for a part-time role.

A Roman holiday

Grace Garland is a PR director based in London. Since returning from maternity leave last year, Garland has gone the extreme route of taking each Friday off work as annual leave, effectively adopting a four-day week without having to take a pay cut.

She tells Startups that she came to this decision after being caught in a Catch 22: unable to afford childcare, but equally unable to go part-time and face a reduction in income.

“I can’t really go part-time but also need to be, as I can’t afford for my son to be in childcare five days a week,” Garland says. “At the moment I feel like it works well, but not every employer would allow it.”

Statutory holiday entitlement in the UK is currently 28 days for an employee working five days a week. This is a legal requirement, owing to the importance of regular breaks in maintaining positive employee health and wellbeing.

Employers have a duty of care for their workforce. Ideally, managers should encourage staff members like Garland to use all of their annual leave throughout the year to ensure they do not feel overwhelmed by their workload.

But, as any parent will tell you, looking after children is no picnic. That working parents are being forced to use up their annual leave entitlement for care duties will massively increase the likelihood of them experiencing stress and burnout.

How to better support working parents

Clearly, there is a business case for aiding working parents. One recent survey by Gallup found that the UK has the lowest average employee engagement rate in the UK.

Designing policies that provide tangible, sought-after benefits for staff is an easy way to boost staff happiness, alongside payslips. This will help companies to retain talented individuals, reducing turnover and generating cost savings in the long-term.

Denise Priest is Executive Director of Work and Family Solutions at Bright Horizons. Priest tells Startups there is a growing need for UK companies to step in and provide gap cover to ensure employees “aren’t forced to choose between care for children, adults or grandparents when arrangements break down.

“Our data shows businesses cannot afford to be complacent. An increasing number of workers are looking for new opportunities and being a supportive employer will attract them.”

But while the idea of adding a nursery to the workplace is an attractive idea for parents, particularly in today’s economic climate, benefit packages require a savvier approach from cash-strapped employers.

Work-at-home parenting

Many UK employers have hit upon an alternative, generally low-cost solution to the childcare crisis: introducing a flexible working policy into the business.

What this looks like depends on the business owner and their unique operational style. Generally, however, the idea is to empower the worker by giving them full control over where and when they work.

Indeed, the impact could be so positive for organisations that the government is making it a legal requirement via the Flexible Working Bill. From next year, workers will be able to request changes to work hours, times, or location from day one of employment.

The benefit is particularly beneficial for working mothers, who rely on hybrid working more than fathers or those on paternity leave. Currently, women aged 16-64 are four times as likely to be out of work due to family or household commitments compared to men of the same age.

In May, Startups research uncovered that 5% more women than men would use a flexible working arrangement, such as the four-day week, to save on childcare. This gap rises to 12% for director-level roles

For Garland, whose holiday entitlement has almost been fully used up, a four-day week would be helpful for work-life balance – although with the caveat that pay should not be impacted.

“A four-day working week would be great for me if I was still paid a full-time salary, as that is basically what I do now,” she expands. “It would allow me to spend quality time with my son, and help me feel more motivated to work on the days I am in, because I’d feel less torn.”

Learn more about how the four-day week can transform businesses from those entrepreneurs who have successfully implemented the policy this year.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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