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Can you ask for a pay rise to cover childcare costs?

Pregnant Then Screwed CEO, Joeli Brearley shares her advice for asking for flexible working and pay increases. By Lauren Taylor.

Envato Elements / By Seventy Four Images

One in four UK parents have to give up their job or leave education due to the high cost of childcare, a new study says.

The research, by global children’s charity Theirworld, showed that the childcare crisis in the UK is worse than many other countries – 23% of UK-based parents had to either quit their job or drop out of studies due to childcare costs, compared with 17% in Brazil and 16% in Turkey.

So, what conversations can working parents – particularly mothers, as childcare so often disproportionately falls on women – have with their bosses to combat the crisis, if they do want to stay in employment?

Whether you’re returning to work after maternity leave or buckling under the financial strain of paying for increasing childcare bills, you do have options.

Joeli Brearley, founder and CEO of charity Pregnant Then Screwed, says: “People think, well, it was my fault, I had a baby, I should take [childcare costs] on the chin. And that’s not the case at all.”

(Joeli Brearley/PA)

If you are struggling to keep up with childcare costs but don’t want to quit your job, here’s her advice for approaching your boss on the matter…

Ask for a pay rise

Firstly, it’s “absolutely” reasonable to ask for a pay rise due to increased childcare costs, says Brearley. “It’s definitely worth asking for a pay rise, yes. If they want to keep you, then they’d have to pay out thousands of pounds recruiting new people.

“Remember we’ve essentially got a buyers’ market at the moment because there’s a skills crisis. So absolutely it’s worth asking for a pay rise, and explain that you’ve suddenly got a £15,000-a-year bill that you didn’t have before, and that’s going to put you in a really precarious position. The worst thing that can happen is they say no.”

Make an official application for flexible working

If working more flexibly – whether that means doing some of your hours in the evening or at weekends, shifting to compressed hours or going part-time – would help combat childcare costs for you, Bearley suggests going through the official application process to make the request, rather than just sounding it out with your boss. And be clear that childcare costs are behind your reasoning.

“Make it official, because this is a legal process and you need to write to your employer in that capacity,” she says.

“You should detail in that letter, that you have to work flexibly because of caring responsibilities, because it means that they have greater protection to the Equality Act. Be very clear that what’s preventing you from working the hours that you want to is the cost and availability of childcare.

“They have to respond within three months,” Bearley adds. “If they reject it, they need to give a very specific reason as to why they’re rejecting it – a business reason. They can’t say, ‘It will open the floodgates’, or, ‘We just don’t have time to think about how this could work’.

“Those are not responses that will be acceptable in an employment tribunal. If they just say no, you should get legal advice and figure out whether that is a breach of the law or not.”

Be empowered by your rights

“Caring is gendered,” Brearley says, “because women are more likely to do the caring. If your employer rejects a flexible working request, and your request details that you need the flexibility in order to do your personal responsibilities of caring for a child, then they could end up in court.” It could be classed as sex discrimination, she says.

In that instance, you can contact a charity like Pregnant Then Screwed who have a free advice line, can refer you to an employment lawyer, and even help you draft the flexible working request in the first place.

“If it’s rejected, we can also give legal advice as to whether they have rights under employment law to take this further. Employers should really be scrutinising these flexible working requests properly, rather than just saying no, because they’re having to pay out a lot of money if they’re not careful.”

Suggest a trial period


If you come up against negatively, Brearley says a trial for a certain amount of time is a good idea. “Your best bet is to say to them: OK, let’s try that for three months and then you can tell me if it’s working or not – because it will work,” she says.

“Rather than saying, ‘I want to work this way, you need to sign that off’, say, ‘Well, can we give it a go and see if we can get over problems rather than just a blanket no?’ It’s often trying to get over that hurdle of employers wanting to revert to conventional ways of working, they’re not really interested in trialling new systems and processes.”

Put forward business reasons

There’s loads of research available about how flexible working increases productivity, wellbeing, retention of staff and profitability, Bearley adds.

“Parents should be arguing that, ‘If you don’t let me work this way, I’m going to really struggle and I might have to look for an employer that will let me adapt my working hours’.”


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