'I wanted a baby so badly. Now I can't afford to see her'

The hardest job; an impossible task – this is how you’ll often hear parenting described.

But, as if bringing a new child into the world, juggling work, keeping them happy (and healthy), and raising them to be a functional member of society wasn’t enough, the crippling cost of living is now pushing parents to the brink.

New research by UNICEF shows that half of Brits cannot afford to give their children the life they want to.

It’s a harsh reality caused by our unforgiving economic climate of rising costs, unaffordable childcare and a lack of financial support.

More than three quarters of parents reported that this rising cost of living has negatively impacted their family life (up 12% from last year) – with 71% saying their finances are stretched to the limit.

Kayleigh Crossley, 28, from Preston, Lancashire, began her midwife training when her daughter was just eight months old. She wasn’t being paid but, because she was a student, didn’t qualify for state-funded childcare.

The mum has even had to delay having a second child because she and her partner can’t afford it.

She says: ‘Nursery was running between £800 to £900 a month and I didn’t get any parental support from Student Finance England. They normally help other parents.

‘I had to make sure that I was earning more money to pay for nursery, so I was also taking on the equivalent to a second job alongside shift patterns.

‘I was working in excess of 40 to 50 hours every week as well as doing my studies at the same time with a young toddler.’

But it’s not just the financial impact Kayleigh struggles with. She feels like she’s ‘failed’ her daughter.

‘It makes me feel very stressed and down, even now it makes me feel really sad I feel like I’ve missed out on so much with her in her early years,’ Kayleigh said.

‘I was working so much to afford childcare, it’s not like I was even working so much for us to have days out together.

‘I do feel like I’ve failed her in some ways, because I feel like I’ve been so stressed with it all that it’s affected our bond but the only other choice I would’ve had would’ve been not working at all.

‘Of course that is never going to be an option for us because we simply wouldn’t survive.’

Kayleigh added she and her daughter couldn’t really go on days out because she had no budget for them.

A lack of affordable and accessible childcare was a major issue for nearly 70% of parents like Kayleigh who, after two years of financial strain, hoped that her daughter, then three, would qualify for 30 hours funded childcare.

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‘When the time came, we found out that because I was a full-time student, and I didn’t earn enough from my second job that we didn’t qualify for [funded childcare],’ says Kayleigh.

‘It was an extremely difficult time. We were basically relying on one income to support us.’

Nursery also only provides childcare Monday to Friday, 8am until 6pm, which doesn’t cover Kayleigh’s shift patterns and she claims she has to pay even more to drop her daughter off before eight in the morning.

‘It is just not doable for us, we already reached our limit with the money we pay now,’ Kayleigh says.

‘Having these extra pressures of feeling like you are basically going to work to pay for your childcare makes it even more stressful. And I feel like I get very limited time with my daughter as it is with the job that I do.

‘My job in itself doesn’t give me a great amount of money left aside for us as a family.’

Kayleigh needed a lot of mental health support from her university due to the toll of her financial situation which left her with anxiety.

The young mum isn’t alone with 61% of parents claiming they have struggled with their mental health since becoming a parent. This includes feelings of being overwhelmed (49%), anxious (43%) and unsupported (36%).

Kayleigh was also unable to have another child when she wanted because she wouldn’t have qualified for maternity pay or leave.

‘I think due to the cost of living and because of nursery fees, I honestly can’t see us having probably more than two [children], maximum of three,’ Kayleigh adds.

‘As much as I’d love to have more, it’s just it would never be possible for us as a family. We wouldn’t be able to afford it. We know how much we’d struggle with childcare if we did.’

Kayleigh is just one of the many parents with a financial situation that paints an ever-worsening picture for those with children in the UK. Her story comes as 70% of parents with children under 5 admit it feels harder each year to be a parent in this country.

The findings are the latest from UNICEF UK’s Early Moments Matter campaign, which is calling on the UK Government to step up support for children under 5 and their families, and improve early childhood services across the country by committing to a national Baby and Toddler Guarantee. Sign the petition here.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of UNICEF UK, said: ‘These findings provide a stark snapshot into the reality for many families with babies and young children right now – worried for their children’s future, struggling to make ends meet and left feeling anxious, alone, and unsupported.

‘It is vitally important, that families can access basic services like maternity care, health visits, mental health support, affordable and high-quality childcare and support for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

‘These services, whilst essential for all, can provide a lifeline for families struggling financially and/or with their mental health.

‘The fact that it’s the most disadvantaged families who are struggling more and who are least likely to have accessed support, means we risk cementing inequalities in children’s lives before they’ve even picked up a pencil.

‘The UK Government’s Start for Life initiative seeks to improve support for babies and young children, but its funding does little to address the growing shortfalls in essential services.

‘Urgent Government action is needed to address the gaps to stop families slipping through the net and to safeguard our babies and children’s futures.’

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