• Source: Scotland on Sunday
  • Date: 20 June, 1999
  • Author: Antonia Swinson

In the next few days, Scottish mothers, when not preparing for six weeks of treats and exhaustion, are organising childcare for the next school year. On Friday when the application form arrived for my children?s Afterschool Club I was so filled with gratitude, I almost kissed the cheque. For I am traumatised by years of expensive childcare which has cost me tens of thousands of pounds, leaving the exposed raw nerves of an ex-hostage. Even now, after escaping from nanny hell, I find it very difficult to greet with untrammelled joy the phrase. "x and I are having a baby." Earth Mothers are thin on the ground these days, for partners expect you to earn something, so this sentence should now be translated as "x and I are going to spend ?100K out of taxed income, on top of our mortgage and pension!" Yippee!

Nanny sagas are a key symptom of a booming economy. And so tabloid tales last week about Nicola Horlick?s nanny who won ?13,000 from an industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal seemed poetic justice for the woman who sold us the manifestly absurd line that we can have it all. The story interested me too, for while I have never produced her amount of income or offspring, I recognised only too well, the high stress lifestyle that the career nanny both feeds and services. How typical was the stressed hysterical reaction of Tim Horlick who allegedly screamed at Nanny backing her into a corner. Nannies always form a hell menage a trois. As the second income earner, he was probably paying her salary and this coming on top of the mega-mortgage, long office hours plus parenting five children, makes me surprised that when he finally snapped they merely sacked her. The emotions your childcare can unleash can be savage.

Childcare costs are the great unmentionable in financial planning and you only realise how grievous they are when the bundle of joy is lying in your arms. Many Scottish women have mothers who help out, but for the rest of us, childcare becomes the second mortgage or the cushy pension you might have had. Forget your looks and social life, no one told us was an absolute monthly fortune babies cost! That is the great secret joke which keeps the human race reproducing.

I have now decided that young people should be encouraged to start saving for their child care 'mortgage' years before they meet their partner or have children. The New Childcare Mortgage could be a real winner for a savvy provider ? Virgin naturally ? which could market it principally to young professional women as a domestic dowry to be drawn down when they finally reproduce. I ring round a few agencies. A live-in nanny in Scotland is ?110 p.w. net, ?145 gross including stamp, requiring ?10,000 taxed income. Nurseries and child minders work out at ?100 a week requiring ?6,200 taxed income. Au pairs seem cheap at ?40 - ?50 a week but they all eat like horses and require so many treats. they work out at about the same, with linguistic irritations on top. I ring my IFA, himself bleary-eyed with a new baby, who tells me that this amount equals annual repayments on a ?90K mortgage, approx. ?40K more than the average Scottish mortgage. The childcare hell lasts a shorter time than a mortgage, but the cost of school holidays care is steep and must be averaged out until each child is 14.

My IFA tells me he wishes there had been such a thing as a Childcare Mortgage when he was out drinking with his mates in his early twenties. But that now he would recommend a unit trust / ISA where fees could be taken out after a period and put into a bank account to subsidise monthly child care, or a Maximum Investment plan such as offered by M&G or Scandia which though having higher charges and less flexibility with payments, could be left once matured and drawn down termly.

As it is, I suspect that a huge number of professional middle income women in Britain with children are working at a loss. For while the sums for childcare might add up on paper ? just ? if one adds in the wear and tear, shoe leather and convenience foods, drycleaning and all the other necessities, you could soon head into negative earnings. All these years we have been in the market place and still no Government has given us tax deductible childcare, with the effect that too often we subsidise our employers and the economy and carry the debt as the prerequisite of parenting.

Unfortunately too, like the Lottery grant givers, grandparents however generous, prefer capital projects which grandchildren can see, rather than providing core funding to keep the machinery of their children? s earning power ticking over. Perhaps, coming from a gentler age, they want us to give up our career and pensions for full time motherhood . But, long term, this is really not an affordable option either. So a mother?s place remains in the wrong and in the red.

Wednesday, 24 April, 2019
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