The Resolution Foundation, along with Mumsnet, surveyed 2,000 mothers of children under ten years old about their family make-up, income, childcare arrangements, work preferences and the barriers to work created by childcare.
The cost of childcare was named as the biggest single obstacle to work by more than four in ten mothers, for 42 per cent of those with jobs and 41 per cent not in work.
More than a third a third of stay-at-home mothers said they would like to work and hoped to do a 23 hour week, while one in five who are already employed wanted to take on more work, an extra 10 hours a week on average.
Mothers on lower earnings were more likely to want to work more hours.
The authors of the report argue that ‘more needs to be done to address the high out of pocket costs of childcare and the fact that childcare remains the biggest barrier to work.’
They go on to say there is an assumption that the UK gets particularly poor value for money from its investment in childcare because, as well as being one of the countries with the highest out of pocket costs, it is seen to be one of the biggest spenders in the OECD.
However, they claim that many comparisons look at spending on family benefits rather than just childcare, as well as spending on childcare for children under the age of six, when children in the UK start school at five.
The report also criticises the Tax Free Childcare scheme, which it says when introduced in 2015 is unlikely to result in a change in behaviour for large numbers of children, given that the majority of families who will benefit are in the top half of the household income distribution.
The authors of the report conclude that there is a strong case for extra support to be directed at providers rather than put in the hands of parents.
They claim that directing funding to providers is more likely to allow greater cost control by Government and can be more easily used to drive-up quality.
Vidhya Alakeson, deputy chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, said, ‘A mother being able to work, or to work longer hours, can often be the factor that lifts a family out of poverty and this report shows that many mothers want to do exactly that. The problem is that we do worse than several other countries on maternal employment – especially for single mothers and mothers of three- to- five-year-olds – which is precisely the group where most childcare support is being targeted.
‘That suggests that not enough is being done to help women with children to take on more work if they want to, especially with regard to reducing the costs of childcare and improving working flexibility. It’s especially worrying that current plans to reform childcare direct more support to better-off parents when it is the less well-off who would benefit most and, at the same time, save money from the public purse by taking on more work.’
A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'Recent figures show childcare costs are stabilising after more than a decade of constantly rising prices. A survey for the National Day Nurseries Association found that 58 per cent of nurseries are freezing their fees, while a recent study by Laing & Buisson found that there has been no real growth in costs for the second year running.
'We are taking decisive action to help families with the cost of childcare. We have increased free early education for all 3- and 4-year-olds from 12.5 to 15 hours a week and extended support to 2-year-olds from low-income families. We are also encouraging school nurseries to open from 8-6 to give working parents greater flexibility and choice, and are introducing tax-free childcare which will see all eligible families receive up to £1,200 towards each child's childcare costs. At the same time, we are meeting up to 70 per cent of childcare costs for low- and middle-income families through tax credits.'