State-run day nurseries are often the only choice for working parents on limited incomes.
Research carried out by the Centre for Critical Education Policy Studies, at the Institute of Education, showed that whilst affluent middle class parents are in a position to choose their preferred childcare option, many working class parents are constrained by low income and are largely restricted to state-run day nurseries.
"State day nurseries are overwhelmingly used by working class parents, but wealthier parents can choose from a diversity of childcare provision available in the private sector," said Dr Carol Vincent, research leader. "This segregated provision raises concerns over affordability of care, as such a high percentage of care costs fall on the parent in the UK. We concluded that the working class families who took part really have very little choice in provider."
Tax credits allowed many of the women interviewed to take up jobs, but because of low wages they were limited to cheaper childcare.
"We found the mothers in our research were often caught between two conflicting positions; being a 'good' mother, or being a 'good' worker," said Dr Vincent. "If they were in work, they had to balance having reduced time at home, with being an ideal mum."
The research showed that many women were in occupations that offered little flexibility in working hours. Hardly any of the mothers referred to employers’ formal childcare policies, but it was felt that personal relationships established with line mangers were crucial in enabling them to carry out their mothering responsibilities easily.
Parents from 70 families in the Stoke Newington and Battersea areas of London took part in the study.