Tackling child poverty delivery plan: fourth year progress report 2021-2022 - focus report on households with babies under one

Evidence about child poverty in households with a baby under one. The report presents the latest data on the child poverty targets and includes further evidence on the drivers of child poverty among this priority group.

1. Income from employment

Income raised through employment is a key driver for tackling poverty by directly contributing to a family's available resources. Employment is not just about the labour market, but also people's broader circumstances, including caring responsibilities, family circumstances, life stages and health.

When considering what support or policies could be helpful to increase income from employment for families with babies under one, evidence points towards a combination of: parental leave policies, gender equality, parental leave pay and support with transitions back to employment. When families start thinking about adjusting paid and unpaid work, affordable childcare is an important enabler for families in giving them the option to increase their income from employment.

Parental leave policies

Parental leave policies have a dual role in building strong attachment with children and maintaining a strong link to the workplace. Access to parental leave is required to allow essential time in the early days for secure attachment of children. The first 1001 days agenda, including during pregnancy, provide the greatest opportunity to influence a child's development.[14] Early development of cognitive skills, emotional wellbeing, social competence and sound physical and mental health builds a strong foundation for later life.

There is also a general consensus that parental leave allows mothers to remain attached to the labour market. In this capacity, parental leave provides mothers with the means to take time off to care for a new baby while keeping a job to return to afterwards.[15] While this is likely to be true in general, parental leave policies are not the only influencer in a mother returning to employment. An empirical investigation of policies in Canada found that childcare subsidies were more efficient than parental leave policies in ensuring that women stayed linked to the labour market.[16]

Even when there are parental leave policies in place, parents are not always aware of the leave they are entitled to. As of 2008, a considerable proportion of mothers who were employees in Great Britain (21%) believed they were only entitled to the statutory paid period of leave (i.e. 39 weeks) and were not aware of their entitlement to an extended period of leave of 52 weeks in total.[17] Mothers in low level occupations were particularly likely to be unaware of their entitlement to this extended period of leave. The percentage of mothers taking longer (beyond 39 weeks) maternity leave was lowest among skilled, process and elementary occupations and highest among professionals. To note though, that this extended period of leave is unpaid, and a lack of income rather than a lack of awareness, can be a decisive factor for parents.

Stigma and discrimination around pregnancy and motherhood at work can impact on a mother's participation in the workplace. There is evidence of stigmatisation and judgement directly from employers and workplaces. This can include negative attitudes and behaviours as well as a lack of flexibility in workplaces and a lack of provision of practical and emotional support in helping an employee balance work and family life. Research commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that two in five (41%) of employers in the UK feel that pregnancy puts 'an unnecessary cost burden' on the workplace. While half (51%) of employers agree that there is sometimes resentment amongst employees towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave. Further, a third of employers (36%) disagreed that it is easy to protect expectant or new mothers from discrimination in the workplace.[18]

This discrimination at both the employer and workplace level translates into negative experiences for mothers. Related research commissioned by the EHRC found that three in four mothers (77%) said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave and on their return from maternity leave.[19] Mothers also reported feeling that their pregnancy and having their child had resulted in financial loss (20% of mothers), with the most common experience of financial loss being failing to gain a promotion they believed they were due (10%) or having a reduction in their salary or bonus (8%). Some mothers (11%) even reported feeling forced to leave their job due to the discrimination they faced. Negative experiences of discrimination and harassment following pregnancy appear to be linked to factors such as length of time in service with an employer and a mothers' occupation. Mothers in skilled trades occupations were the most likely to report feeling forced to leave their job and experience financial loss or report a negative impact on opportunity or job security. While those in caring, leisure and other service occupations were more likely to report discrimination having a negative impact on their health and welfare. Mothers in administrative and secretarial and elementary occupations were the least likely to have reported any negative, or possibly, discriminatory experience.

The value of supportive employers was evident in our interview data. There were families who felt understood and supported by their employers compared with those who were not as accommodating and adaptable.

"My work was really accommodating, they get the family thing quite well. My boss was very supportive. Any time I was feeling a bit rubbish, she was happy for me to take the time I needed…I have no complaints at all"

Mother over 26, with partner

"I got really sick with my pregnancy, so I was constantly having to call in sick, so I had to drop out of my college course and I ended up getting fired from my job cos they couldn't rely on me"

Mother under 20, lone parent

Gender equality

There may be scope for policies to address gender disparities in parental leave. Much of the gender pay gap is related to women's disproportionate responsibilities in the home.[20] This is reinforced by inequitable parental leave policies which make it harder for women to return to and progress in work after having a baby.

The UK's parental leave provision implies that a mother should be their baby's main carer. Mothers are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, compared to 2 weeks paternity leave for fathers. Although shared parental leave is available in the UK, it offers the option for mothers to transfer some of their leave to fathers, rather than offering leave to fathers and mothers equally. Recent figures suggest that less than 4% of fathers have taken this up.[21] In countries which offer equal rights to mothers and fathers to take well paid parental leave on a non-transferable 'use it or lose it' basis, a high proportion of fathers use this leave. For example, in Iceland in 2017, 86% of men used this leave for an average of 3 months.

Unlike for women, men's work prospects do not appear to be impacted by the birth of a child. International evidence suggests that overall, the birth of a child tends to have little impact on a father's labour force status or hours of work.[22] This is regardless of factors such as relative or absolute pay, gender attitudes, childcare use, and available workplace flexibility. Indeed, most mothers interviewed mentioned reducing hours or making adjustments to their employment to accommodate their new family structure. The general assumption was that the main caring role falls on mothers, and most adapt by moving to part time hours in order to accommodate this.

"When I went back to work I dropped my hours to go part time. (…) But also, I didn't want her in nursery five days a week. It works for us, but it can be a bit tight money wise."

Mother aged 20-25, with partner

Very few interviewees talked about both them and their partners making adjustments to balance paid and unpaid work. For those that did they spoke of both parents working in part-time roles or alternating shift work.

"We'll have to work shifts between me and partner, day/night shifts to care for son.."

Mother under 20, with partner

Parental leave pay

Families often see a significant reduction in income while relying on parental leave pay or benefits. Receiving full maternity support can lower a family's poverty risk after the birth of a child[23], but it does not always provide adequate support or completely eliminate the risk of falling into poverty. Even at the highest rate (£151.97 per week) Maternity Allowance is worth less than half of the Living Wage rate.[24]Although Statutory Maternity Leave is available for 52 weeks, Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance is only payable for 39 weeks. This leaves a three month gap in which, if mothers wish to remain at home with their baby, they do not receive an income.

"I'm supposed to be going back [to work] in October. I stop getting paid after the 39th week, so I might need to think about going back earlier.."

Mother under 20, lone parent

Insecure and unpredictable employment, and loss of working hours, sometimes due to discrimination during pregnancy, affect women's entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.[25] For some women this was exacerbated during COVID-19 when pregnant women were advised to isolate at the beginning of the pandemic.[26] Addressing these gaps in maternity pay is likely to prevent some families with a baby from falling, or falling deeper, into poverty.

The type of employment mothers are in can have an impact on their maternity pay entitlement. As of 2008, mothers in Great Britain who received no maternity pay were those in the least advantageous employment conditions.[27] Across all mothers, 11% reported receiving no maternity pay. This figure was significantly higher for some groups, including mothers working between one and 15 hours per week (37%), those who had been in their job for less than one year (50%), mothers with three or more children (19%), and mothers who were lone parents (28%). A small group of mothers who did not receive maternity pay should have been legally entitled to some form of maternity leave pay. While this was the case for a very small number of mothers entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (2%), it affected a larger number of mothers entitled to Maternity Allowance (29%).

Transitioning back to employment

The decision to go back to paid employment after having a baby is influenced by a range of factors. These include social policies (such as funded childcare), cultural norms (what behaviour or choices are seen as desirable), labour market characteristics (such as work flexibility) and access to support networks.[28],[29]

  • Childcare. Having access to childcare, either through informal arrangements with family or through official childcare settings ,is an important tool in providing families the option of returning to employment. From our interviews, those who found it easiest to go back to work, were those with access to childcare linked to education (mainly further education colleges) or employers.

"I'm going to college and my baby will be going to the college nursery because they take care of them on the campus."

Mother aged 20-25, with partner

In Scotland, the Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) expansion provides all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds to 1140 funded ELC hours a year (which equates to 30 hours a week if taken during school term time). There is no free provision for under 2s. Still, families with babies interviewed were already anticipating this to be a helpful enabler to go back to work. Further details on childcare below.

"When my little girl turns three and she gets the funded hours in childcare that will be a HUGE help for us. It's really difficult for working parents to go back to work and be able to afford childcare.."

Mother aged 20-25, with partner

  • Cultural norms. In terms of cultural norms, almost one in five of the British public disapprove of a mother with a child under 3 being in full-time work (17% in 2018/19).[30] Disapproval for this pattern of working has halved in a little more than a decade, although four times as many people remain critical of a woman with young children doing a full-time job compared to a man in a comparable situation.
  • Labour market characteristics. Parents who wish to return to work after having a baby are not always able to do so. While individual circumstances personal choice are important factors, the characteristics of the labour market also play a role. An evaluation of the Making it Work programme, designed to provide support to lone parents in complex circumstances in finding sustainable employment, found it was harder for clients with young children to find work. 34% of lone parents whose child was aged five or under found work, with this falling to 28% when the youngest child was aged between one and four and 26% when the youngest child was aged less than one.[31] Other research has found that preparation for parenthood during maternity leave, a baby's disposition, mental wellbeing, and support from colleagues and supervisors, close friends and family all play a role in successfully transitioning back to the workplace after maternity leave.[32]

Evidence shows that for families with young children certain transition points can create particular challenges which increase their risk of falling into poverty. These include the transition from work into maternity pay/allowance to Universal Credit or transitioning back into work, education or training. Families report that these transition points can create financial strains that are difficult for families to plan for or manage.[33]

Detailed information on specific indicators follows.

1.1 Hourly pay

Indicator: Hourly pay

In 2017-20, average hourly pay among families with a child under one was £7.96. This was lower than for all low-income families, where the average hourly pay in 2017-20 was £8.52.

Source: Family Resources Survey

Even when in work the ability to earn enough money to live can be challenging. As shown in the indicator for hourly pay, families with a child under one tend to earn less on average than all low-income families.

Further, on average, parents of young children will tend to be younger than those with older children and teenagers. Younger people, particularly those under 25, will have had less time to develop their work experience and skillset and progress in their employment when compared with older adults.[34] See focus report on mothers under 25 for further detail.

Furthermore, younger parents also face structural issues around pay, with the National Living Wage not enforced until the employee is 23 years old. Additionally, the National Minimum Wage increases with age placing younger parents at greater risk of falling into poverty.[35] As of April 2022, the rates for the National Minimum Wage are:

  • £4.81 / hour for people under 18
  • £6.83 / hour for those aged 18-20
  • £9.18 / hour for those aged 21-22
  • £9.50 / hour for those aged 23+

"I couldn't work full time because I wouldn't get time with the baby and would be on minimum wage which wouldn't be enough"

Mother over 26, lone parent

Mothers considering returning to work spoke of reducing working hours to part time positions or changing jobs to more family friendly environments. They spoke of how working full time would not be enough to cover ongoing costs and the struggle to find the balance between hours worked, taxes paid and time spent with family.

One interviewee also spoke about a general lack of confidence in her pursuing an increase in income.

"I'd like to be self-employed in beauty industry. I did beauty a few years ago but couldn't raise the funds for equipment. My confidence was low by the time I was in a position to do so and I never did it."

Mother over 26, lone parent, 3+ children, minority ethnic

In addition, mothers' experiences in the labour market during and post pregnancy can have a negative impact on their job roles and pay. A 2018 UK wide survey commissioned by the EHRC[36] highlights that changes to job roles when returning to work after having a baby can impact on pay for a minority of mothers (3%). More frequently, new mothers can find it more challenging to progress in employment and increase their hourly pay at the same rate they might have before having to balance motherhood and dealing with a lack of support from their employer. The research highlighted that, of mothers in the UK who had experienced a financial loss following their pregnancy, 8% said they had had a reduction in their salary or bonus, one in 20 said they received a lower pay rise or bonus than their peers and 4% of mothers reported that they had been demoted.

1.2 Employment rates and hours worked per household

Indicator: No paid employment

In 2020 in Scotland, on average, 14.1% of children where the household contains a dependent child under one year old were living in a household where no adult is in paid employment. This compares to 12.1% in all households with a dependent child.

Source: Annual Population Survey

Indicator: Hours worked

On average, in Scotland, working-age adults in employment in families where the youngest child is aged under one worked 28 hours per week in 2017-20. This was slightly higher than for all low-income families in employment (24 hours).

Source: Family Resources Survey

In the majority of households with babies, there is someone in paid employment (14.1%). However, this is lower than amongst all households with a dependent child (12.1%).

Despite this slightly higher rate of unemployment, in households where there is a baby under one, 50% of their income come from earnings and a further 47% from social security.[37] When compared across other household types most at risk of poverty, only minority ethnic households raise a higher proportion of their income from earnings (64%). All other priority groups tend to depend upon social security more heavily than households with a baby aged under one.

However, even amongst those who rely on income from employment, having a job is not always enough. Of those children living in poverty with a baby in the household, 65% of lived with a head of household in paid work in the period 2014 to 2020.[38] The level of in-work poverty is similar to all families (67%).

Overall, income raised, either through employment or social security benefits, is often not enough to keep households with a baby under one out of poverty. For most families, the first year of their baby's life is marked by a significant reduction in income while relying on maternity/paternity pay or benefits. The challenges arising from this drop in income came through in the qualitative interviews too:

"The income I receive at the moment is my maternity pay and the universal credit which pays part of my rent…I always receive the same amount. But it goes as fast as it comes in. A lot of my money has to go to the rent, a lot of my money goes to gas and electricity. And that's all my money gone. I'm lucky if I'm left with £20."

Mother under 20, with partner

Barriers into paid employment

When welcoming a baby into the family, there are new logistics which need to be navigated to make family life work. This includes balancing paid with unpaid work and deciding what is best for the family unit. For families with a baby under one, there are some specific barriers into employment to consider.

  • Type of jobs available. A lack of suitable jobs, particularly part-time employment, is the most common reason for mothers who are seeking paid work not being able to find an appropriate job.[39] Mothers who stop paid work after having a child and do not return by the time the child is five years old are more likely to be younger, to be single mothers, and to be living in the most deprived areas. For parents who wish to return to employment, the provision of more flexible jobs would help to facilitate the return to work.[40]
  • Lack of workplace adjustments. Mothers in lower level occupations and temporary jobs were less likely to say family-friendly arrangements were available in their workplace, as were lone mothers and those in low income groups.[41] One mother interviewed mentioned the challenge of having a physical job while pregnant. Others commented on the challenges of making work and breastfeeding compatible. Further evidence is required to understand the level of adjustment employers make to support pregnant women.

"But from work it wasn't great. It was more like a needed a break because of the pregnancy, I couldn't do that. I had to stand most of the day and didn't get a break. I used to work at [hospitality sector] full time."

Mother under 20, with partner

  • The cost of childcare. For many families, the cost of childcare can be a significant expense. In particular, for those families who do not have access to help from family or friends and rely on paid childcare to be able to work. Of those households who use paid childcare, 25% said that they found it difficult or very difficult to afford childcare.[42] For many, the cost of childcare represents a significant proportion of their work income. Therefore, many families decide to wait until they are eligible for funded ELC or until the child starts school. Further details in the childcare section.
  • Availability of childcare. Limited choice/availability of childcare for younger children is an issue, especially for parents working non-standard hours, and for single parents who are often their child's sole carer.[43] Further details in the childcare section.
  • Lack of support and stigma from employers and colleagues. Mothers who feel they face stigma and judgement when going back to work with a young child can struggle with the return to work. The mother may end up leaving or deciding not to return if they are not supported by their employer. Research by the EHRC exploring pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage found that one in ten mothers said they were treated in a way that made them feel humiliated or belittled, and a similar proportion of mothers (9%) felt they were treated so badly they had to leave their job.[44]

Enablers into paid employment

There are a number of policies that can support parents of young children into paid employment. These are: flexible working practices, employability support and affordable childcare. Considering each of those in turn.

  • Greater availability of flexible working and home working could increase the proportion of families with babies in employment, increase hours, or allow for a move into roles that are better paid or more suited to their skillset. Flexible working is important for families who have babies and are thinking about returning to work. For example, families may need work that can fit around childcare and adapt to the unexpected demands of family life. The COVID-19 pandemic has promoted more agile working practices, and if these are cultivated and embedded as we continue to recover from the pandemic, this as a by-product presents an opportunity for jobs to better suit the needs of families. When discussing agile working practices, it should be on the basis of secure, reliable contracts that provide parents with a consistent source of income. Practical support and family friendly practices in workplaces can also be important in enabling mothers who are not able to work from home to remain in employment. This can include practical measures such as workplaces providing facilities available for breastfeeding mothers[45] and measures such as allowing parents to take time off at short notice without stigma or judgement.[46] Further, supportive and positive working environments are important so that mothers feel welcomed and comfortable returning to work.[47] Many mothers interviewed spoke highly of employer's practices and how it allowed them to continue in employment.

"My work is actually great. The process of applying for part time went really smooth… My work could have said no. But luckily it worked all alright. I was quite anxious about it in case they said no. But no, everything went actually fine.."

Mother aged 20-25, with partner

"My work was really accommodating. They get the family thing quite well. My boss was very supportive. Anytime I was feeling a bit rubbish, she was happy to take me all the time I needed. I was working from home at the time"

Mother over 26, with partner

  • Some people, will benefit from tailored employability support, such as from initiatives like the Fair Start Scotland. In particular, employability programmes that focus on an individual's circumstances and specific challenges can be of benefit. Fair Start Scotland, Scotland's first fully devolved employability service, launched in April 2018 and supports those who are furthest from the labour market or experience complex barriers to employment. Fair Start Scotland figures show the proportion of parents being supported through their service is increasing over time (from 8% in Year 1 to 28% in Year 4). However, of all participants to date, only 4% were parents whose youngest child was under one. Further, while many of those supported by the services were able to start a job further work is required to increase the scale of the programme.[48]
  • Finally, improving childcare affordability and making it available directly after parental leave can also support parents' return to work.[49] Currently, the lack of funded ELC for parents with children under the age of two, combined with problematic shared parental leave policies, can make it difficult for mothers, and particularly lone parents, to return to work.[50] Additionally, there can be other contextual factors which may make the return to work more difficult for mothers. For example, the cost of childcare for families with multiple children of preschool age, those who need to begin maternity leave earlier than expected (such as those whose baby requires neonatal care) or those who have children with a neurodevelopmental or physical disability who have complex learning and childcare needs. Greater availability of public childcare would mean that motherhood (for married or cohabiting mothers with an employed partner) has less of an effect on the number of hours that women want to work.[51]

1.3 Labour market

Indicator: Underemployment

4.9% of parents (16+) in Scotland with a dependent child under three years old who are in employment would have preferred to work more hours for the same rate of pay in 2020. This is compared to 6.8% of all parents with a dependent child.

Source: Annual Population Survey

Indicator: Under-utilisation of skills

Almost one in five (18.6%) of employed working age (16-64) parents in Scotland with a dependent child aged under three years old who have a degree qualification were in low or medium-low skilled occupations in 2020. This is a similar level compared to employed, graduate parents with a dependent child of any age (17.2%).

Source: Annual Population Survey

As mentioned earlier, policies that support flexible working patterns, career progression, gender equality and affordable childcare are likely to have a positive impact on families with a baby under one.[52]

The type of work parents have access to is important in the prevention of child poverty. Flexibility is key in supporting parents to balance caring responsibilities but employment also needs to be secure. Research with parents of young children during the COVID-19 pandemic found that those families with precarious and/or insecure incomes did not have enough money to make ends meet before the pandemic. These existing financial pressures were worsened due to the impact of the pandemic.[53]

Generally, shift work and part-time employment can often better accommodate childcare arrangements, but are generally lower paid and less conducive to career advancement.[54] This can translate into families with babies having to adjust to lower paid jobs or underutilising their skills in order to balance caring responsibilities.

Changes to working patterns and the type of job are more acute amongst women. Women who want to move from full-time to part-time work often struggle to find a job with similar levels of responsibility and seniority.[55] Therefore, they often have to 'downgrade' to a job with lower pay. For example, evidence from Australia suggests that while a mothers' workplace flexibility does not appear to affect their workforce participation, many mothers change employers after having a child in order to gain more flexibility or to work fewer hours.[56]

When the labour market adjusts and provides flexibility for all, everyone regardless of gender, benefits. Specifically, fathers' workplace flexibility appears to have a significant effect on maternal employment. The more flexible the father's workplace, the more likely that the mother will remain in employment. This may be related to the fact that greater workplace flexibility allows for fathers to contribute to childcare.

Further, the length of time outside the labour market for a mother can have both short and long term impacts on families. Mothers who experience an extended time out of work after the birth of their child, and until their child is five years of age, experience short term impacts on household income but can also face the long-term impact of lower earning potential as a result.[57] Evidence suggests that this employment disparity in the early years contributes significantly towards the gender pay gap in the longer term.[58]

1.4 Skills and qualifications

Indicator: Parents' qualifications

In 2020 5.1% of parents (16-64) in Scotland with a dependent child under 3 had no or low qualifications. This compares to 7.6% of all parents with a dependent child of any age.

Source: Annual Population Survey

A key barrier to in-work progression can be lack of skills or educational qualifications. Providing skills and educational development can support in-work progression and improve career prospects in the longer term.[59]

However, for families with babies, for whom flexibility and caring responsibilities are a priority, finding suitable work that matches their qualification level can be an issue. Sometimes, it is not a lack of skills, but instead it is the challenge of matching a mother's skillset to their work requirements after having a baby.

Some mothers interviewed considered furthering their education during their child's early years. It seemed that the flexibility provided in colleges, and childcare options linked to educational establishments, were key factors in the decision.

"I'm studying to be a midwife as well. I try to do it at night when she's in bed. At the moment it's all online. Come September it will be a bit more difficult because it'll be full time, but I've spoken to all the lecturers and they've all been supportive and they try to take into consideration if people have children etc. for placements so my placement will be local."

Mother 20-25, lone parent

1.5 Childcare and transport

The availability of high-quality, flexible and affordable services such as childcare and transport can be important enablers for parents in accessing employment. Policies that aim to reduce the cost of transport and childcare can help to reduce the cost of living for those parents with a baby under one.


Each family's circumstances and needs are different and dependent on factors such as a child's age, health or emotional development. The logistical requirements needed to keep family life going will vary over time. Similarly, parental future aspirations will also evolve.

For those families whose baby is still under one year of age, they may not have started using childcare yet. Once, and if they decide to do so, it will be an important factor in supporting paid work.[60] Some parents find themselves having to return to work earlier than planned (often on adapted working hours) to increase their household income. In these circumstances, the availability of affordable childcare is a key enabler.[61]

Currently, the lack of funded hours for parents with children under the age of two can make it difficult for parents who wish, or need, to return to work to do so.[62] The Scottish Government has committed to developing a new offer of ELC for one and two year olds - starting with those who need it most.

There are some issues worth considering around childcare:

  • Equitable access. Although childcare provision can support parents to enter or progress in employment, it may not do so equitably. Lower income families with babies are less able than higher income families to be able to afford paid-for childcare. Those families with more than one child often find it difficult to pay for childcare with costs being seen as unmanageable and a disincentive to take on employment.[63] Yet, when childcare is subsidised, research suggests there continues to be inequalities across families. Research on ELC use in Scotland in 2017 (before the expansion from 600 to 1,140 funded hours of ELC) showed that on average, parents with higher household incomes used more hours of ELC than parents with lower incomes (33 hours per week for parents with an annual household income of at least £60,000 compared to 25 hours per week for parents with a household income of less than £16,000).[64] Similarly, those in the top and middle income brackets were more likely to have used free or low cost activities offered to children in Scotland during Summer 2021.[65] Any statutory childcare provision for under 2s has to reach those who need it most. OECD data from across European countries suggests that when childcare is provided for children aged 0-2 years take-up rates vary. Indeed, take up tends to be higher in higher income households compared to lower-income households.[66]
  • Childcare for non-standard working hours. There may be particular difficulties and barriers associated with juggling low-paid, insecure and shift work around the needs of young children. Research suggests that children living with parents who work non-standard hours are less likely to access nursery provision.[67] This can be because the majority of nurseries/pre-schools tend to operate during standard office working hours and settings frequently ask parents to commit to specific days and times in advance for their child's care.
  • Lack of awareness. Barriers also exist around awareness and uptake of additional financial support available to help with childcare costs. Parents paying for nurseries for young children who are not yet eligible for funded places can, if eligible, access financial support to help with childcare costs. Further, powers are available to nurseries to mitigate financial burdens parents may face (such as temporary discretionary fee waivers). Despite these having been found to be a valuable form of support when offered, evidence suggests that many parents are not aware of the range of support available to them.[68] It can also be challenging to access the appropriate support for childcare costs even when parents are aware of what is available. Many parents receiving the childcare element of Universal Credit report not receiving this on time (and in full) and report difficulties paying upfront childcare costs as a result.[69]
  • Balancing childcare needs of multiple children. When parents have older children in the family as well as a baby and wish to return to work this can present further issues. Where older children are not yet eligible for funded ELC, and there is no additional family support nearby, the affordability of childcare can stop families accessing the childcare they are entitled to.[70] During pregnancy parents can also experience difficulty managing childcare. Indeed, it can be difficult jugging childcare for older children around attending antenatal care at required appointment times. This is particularly difficult when parents cannot access funded ELC or afford private care.[71]

Cost was identified as a key barrier to childcare in our interviews. In particular, mothers highlighted the upfront payments required and the lack of funded ELC for children under two years old. Alongside cost, availability of childcare was a barrier with mothers finding that sometimes local, public nurseries had no space for new enrolments.

"[eldest daughter] is two days nursery a week. We managed to get a place in an outdoor nursery on her third birthday. We couldn't justify sending her before because the fees would have been all of my partner's salary."

Mother over 16, with partner

"If there were more nurseries with space available, I've tried 5 or 6 different nurseries, but they're all full. All local nurseries. I've looked at all the ones close to me, all the others are far away so I'd have to get up super early and change my shifts at work."

Mother under 20, lone parent

For many of the mothers we interviewed, family was an important source of informal childcare. This allowed mothers some respite and enabled them to attend courses and appointments. However, some mothers expressed a preference not to use childcare, particularly when their babies are very young.

"I prefer looking after him, I prefer staying with him, I'm worried, he was really small when he was born. I'm really attached to him."

Mother under 20, lone parent

"My boyfriend's family do offer to help out but I prefer to do things on my own because I'm capable of doing it, I don't really like anyone's involvement."

Mother aged 20-25, with partner


Indicator: Satisfaction with public transport

In Scotland, across 2016-19, 82% of adults in low-income families with a child under one were very or fairly satisfied with the quality of public transport. This was higher than satisfaction among adults in low-income families (73% satisfied)

Source: Scottish Household Survey

The costs of travel can represent an unavoidable strain for families. Transport needs to be available for families with children under one to allow essential travel. This can be for access to employment or education but can also include essential travel to medical appointments, advice services, childcare and to visit relatives.[72] However, high costs and issues with accessibility can present barriers for low income families in using public transport.

Increased travel costs are associated with pregnancy, with the costs of travel to maternity services often significant, especially for those in rural areas and people using cars who need to pay high costs to park in hospital settings.[73] A 2016 report on pregnant refugee and asylum seeking women found that their Home Office housing provider, on whom women rely for taxis to and from hospital for all hospital appointments due to their Azure card not allowing them to buy public transport tickets, were often hard to contact and unresponsive to women's needs.[74]

As previously identified, we know that women are more likely to take on caring responsibilities for children, elderly relatives and domestic chores, alongside paid work. This means that they are more likely to make frequent shorter trips, rather than make a single commute, and are more likely to be travelling with children, buggies, bags of shopping etc. Therefore, accessible transport is particularly important for mothers travelling with young children.[75]

All but one of the mothers we interviewed identified buses as a primary mode of transport for them and their families. The limited space for prams on buses was identified as an issue and made buses a less reliable mode of transport. Some mothers had received their free under 22s bus pass and found it useful. However, one mum told us that the online application process was difficult.

Driving was said to be a more reliable and flexible way to travel, but the significant rise in fuel costs presents a barrier. Further, one mother added that driving lessons, and the necessary driving tests, are expensive.

"I have a dentist appointment tomorrow but can't go because it's 45 minutes away and I would have to get 3 buses. So that's 3 buses I've gotta chance to get on and like I might not get a seat on one if there's a pram already on there and if someone else gets on in a wheelchair."

Mother aged 20-25, with partner

"It really depends - some of the buses never show up. I wish I could drive but it's quite hard cos it's so expensive. Buses are ok, they get you where you need to go and it gets me and [son] out for the day. Yeah it's just how much [driving] all costs, for my 17th I got lessons and everything but not long after I fell pregnant so I had to stop."

Mother under 20, lone parent


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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