The £16.1bn Great British childcare crutch

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Nine million (65%) UK grandparents provide childcare for their grandchildren, propping up pressurised UK families, according to new research from insurer Ageas.

This ‘grandparent army’ saves parents £16.1bn each year in formal childcare costs, around £1,786 per family, and includes a 2.7m nanny heartland – those grandparents who are regularly relied upon.

For the eighth consecutive year the ‘21st Century Grandparent Army’ Report highlights the fundamental role that grandparents play in supporting their adult children and grandchildren – over one quarter of grandparents (29%) say their adult children have heavy workloads so need childcare support, and one fifth (18%) say their children can’t afford formal childcare.

In partnership with the International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK), which has produced a detailed study of the subject for Ageas, key findings from the report to be launched at a House of Lords roundtable event reveals that:

§ 9 million grandparents make up The UK’s Grandparent Army, with a 2.7 million core at its heart;

§ Grandparents spend an average of over 8 hours a week looking after their grandchildren. This time commitment rises to over 11 hours each week for the ‘nanny heartland’ – those core grandparents who are relied upon week in, week out;

§ Two-thirds (68%) of grandparents offer financial contributions to their grandchildren’s upbringing, across payments towards clothes, toys and hobbies, leisure activities and pocket money;

§ One quarter (23%) even pay for babysitting, so that parents, and perhaps grandparents themselves, can take a well-earned rest.

The Government has announced planned changes to allow working grandparents to share parental leave pay to support working parents with the costs of childcare during the first year of a child’s life, due to come in next year5. But, over half (52%) of grandparent childminders are not aware of this, and a further 45% said they wouldn’t consider this option in the future. Even though almost half (47%) of parents were aware of the plans, over a quarter said they wouldn’t consider this as an option.

Andy Watson, Chief Executive at Ageas, commented: “The Government’s plans for grandparents who support working families need to go further by looking at either subsidising the cost for those baby-boomers now doing their best to provide childcare, or providing more financial support for families to obtain regular professional childcare. Grandparents are saving working families billions every year which suggests something is wrong and needs to be carefully considered by The Department for Work and Pensions.”

Baroness Sally Greengross, OBE, President and Chief Executive of the International Longevity Centre UK, said: “It is clear grandparents have become one of the biggest sources of childcare after parents themselves, allowing more parents to work and thereby reducing the costs of childcare. Nevertheless, how we support and reward this growing unpaid army and how we reconcile an increasing need to work longer for the over 50s, 60s and 70s and shape and expand family friendly policies for all, remains subject to debate.”