Childcare costs and Universal Credit: Awareness, affordability and the challenge of an embedded system

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Abstract

Helping parents meet the cost of childcare is an important policy objective in the UK and there are various financial subsidies available. For low-income working parents, this support is increasingly provided through Universal Credit, the main means-tested benefit for working-age people in the UK. This article draws on qualitative interviews with parents on Universal Credit and explores issues of awareness, affordability, administration and the consequences of embedding childcare costs into a monthly-based means-tested system. The conclusions reflect on the implications for the Universal Credit goals of supporting employment, of simplification of the system, and of increasing personal responsibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-220
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Poverty and Social Justice
Volume29
Issue number2
Early online date7 May 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to the Economic and Social Research Council for funding this study (ES/ R004811/1). I would also like to acknowledge the project team - Fran Bennett, Dr Rita Griffiths, Levana Magnus and Professor Jane Millar.They have been a great support as I have analysed the research material and developed the article. I would also like to acknowledge the two referees whose comments were fair and helped to improve the article.

Funding Information:
This article examines the childcare offer within Universal Credit, focusing specifically on the ‘configuration of its delivery’, exploring the consequences of embedding childcare costs into this monthly-based means-tested system. We draw on new in-depth qualitative research with couples claiming Universal Credit,funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/R004811/1) from 2018 to 2021. Our findings are some of the first to provide evidence from the perspective of claimants as to how far the provision of childcare costs through Universal Credit does in practice incentivise and support working families.In the discussion we reflect on the implications for the Universal Credit goals of supporting employment, of simplification of the system, and of increasing personal responsibility.

Keywords

  • Childcare
  • Couples
  • Family policy
  • Universal Credit
  • Welfare state

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration

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