How Do You Find Affordable Childcare As A Single Mum?

Whether it’s time to work or a night off to rest and recharge, finding affordable childcare as a single mum is an absolute essential. However, with the rising costs of living and limited support systems, securing cheap and reliable childcare can be tough for single mothers in the UK. Here are a few of the affordable childcare options available right now…

Accessing Government Childcare Schemes

The government’s childcare reform has increased access to free childcare in the UK, however, in practice, access to these ‘free’ spaces is not always available. However, knowing exactly what you’re entitled to is absolutely imperative. The UK government currently offers various childcare support schemes that single parents can take advantage of. 

30 Hours Free Childcare

The 30 hours free childcare programme provides eligible parents with up to 30 hours of free childcare per week for 2, 3 and 4-year-olds, for 38 weeks of the year. To qualify, parents must earn at least the equivalent of 16 hours per week at the national minimum or living wage, and neither parent can earn more than £100,000 annually. This 30-hour scheme is set to be expanded to all eligible families with children aged 9 months to 4 years by September 2025.

15 Hours Free Childcare

In contrast, the 15-hour childcare scheme is a universal entitlement available to all 3- and 4-year-olds in England, regardless of their parents’ employment status or income. This scheme provides 15 hours of free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year. The 15-hour scheme will also be extended to cover 9-month-old babies from September 2024.

Both the 30-hour and 15-hour schemes aim to support families with the costs of childcare and promote early childhood education and development, though the barriers to work for single parents can make eligibility for the 30-hour scheme a challenge, and the individual rather than household income allowance also negatively impacts single parent families. 

Tax-Free Childcare 

The Tax-Free Childcare scheme allows parents to receive up to £2,000 per child (or £4,000 for disabled children) to help cover the costs of childcare. This can be used toward childcare settings like after-school clubs and sporting activities once they no longer need the 15 or 30-hour allowances (usually once they start school). 

Utilising Childcare Vouchers and Tax Credits

Childcare vouchers, provided by some employers, allow parents to pay for childcare using pre-tax income, resulting in savings. Single parents should check with their employers to see if this benefit is available. The childcare element of Universal Credit can also provide financial assistance to eligible single parents, covering up to 85% of childcare costs.

A guide to benefits for single mothers in the UK

Childminders, Nannies, Babysitters

Outside of formal childcare settings like nurseries and educational settings, nannies and childminders can provide regular and flexible childcare for your children, at their home or yours and either sole care or in small groups with other children. Many solo childcare providers can also be paid for in part or full using government-funded childcare schemes, so make sure you ask up front. Nannies tend to be the most expensive option as they’re usually working solely for your family to be available for flexible childcare to fill the gaps that your work and social schedule leaves. You may be able to organise a nanny share with other families, however this option may not be financially viable to many single mums. 

Childcare Shares

Childcare shares with other single mums can be a great way to fill gaps in your schedule, too. I have frequently helped out single mum friends with school runs when they’ve had an early commute, or even non-single mum friends when their partners are away with work. In turn, they are always happy to help if I’m away for a couple of days and need someone to fill in a school run or two for me! 

Family Help 

While in an ideal world Grandparents should be able to just enjoy their grandchildren without being drafted in for unpaid labour, the truth is that for many single mums (and even cohabiting parents) it just isn’t possible to make things work economically without family support. If you have family close by who are willing and able to help with childcare, you’ll not only save money but your children will benefit from their close relationships with their family members. 

Can We Help? Advocating for Improved Affordable Childcare Policies

While the current landscape presents challenges, single parents can also play a role in advocating for more comprehensive and affordable childcare policies. By engaging with local and national policymakers, sharing our experiences, and supporting initiatives that prioritise the needs of single-parent families, we can contribute to creating a more supportive environment for our fellow single parents and our children. Check out the brilliant work by the Single Parent Rights campaign and get involved if you can. 


Read next: Budgeting Tips for Single Mums

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