In this article for LV= life insurance
, we find out how the UK compares to other countries when it comes to childcare and support for parents – and what we could learn from their initiatives.
Which country has the best parental leave?
If you’re thinking about becoming a parent, the best place to raise a child is Denmark. That’s according to the US News & World Report
, who have looked at parental leave worldwide and judged Denmark to be top.
Expectant Danish parents, and expectant parents living in Denmark who are from the EU, get a total of 52 weeks paid parental leave
Parents in the UK do have advantages over other countries, however. We’re one of only five countries – the Czech Republic, Croatia, Israel and Spain being the other four – that allow mothers to transfer part of their leave to their partners
Of course, parental leave is only one benefit available to people raising a child. We found a few more innovative measures in other countries and thought about whether they would work in the UK.
Finland’s (and now Scotland’s) baby box
One part of the UK has already taken inspiration from another country.
Last year, Scotland adopted Finland’s baby box scheme
, which provides new mothers with a free starter kit of items, all packed up in a box that then doubles as a daytime bed.
The boxes were an immediate success: in the first year, 85% of expectant Scottish parents
took advantage of the scheme – that’s 52,065 families – with 100% saying that they were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’.
‘By enabling parents to give their babies a safe sleeping space, baby boxes may reduce unsafe co-sleeping or babies sleeping in an inappropriate place such as a sofa,’ says Royal College of Midwives’ (@MidwivesRCM
) chief executive Gill Walton.
Will the Finnish start another trend with day care options?
As well as the popular baby box scheme, parents in Finland also get to take advantage of their local authority day care
. If they choose not to, they often get access to a generous parental allowance.
After their period of parental leave has ended, parents can apply for municipal day care. If both parents work, the child also has a right to full-time, early education. Some municipal authorities also offer full-time education to the children if one parent is at home.
The maximum day care fee is €290 a month, or €3,480 a year, but children from low-income families can get day care free. The fee parents are charged depends on their level of income and how long the child spends in day care.
Compare that to British parents, who spend £6,000 on average on their first year of childcare alone – a large percentage of the cost of raising a child
‘Many countries have a certain amount of their annual budget specifically put aside for childcare,’ observes Richard Conway, the founder of Childcare.co.uk
). ‘Some countries have more parental leave than the UK, which will help parents with their costs, but also to recover after birth and have more support in the first few months.’
The Netherlands has another solution: The Dutch Childcare Act
imposes a levy on employers, so that parents, the government and employers are jointly responsible for funding childcare.
Helping Australian babies find the land of nod
Caring for a child isn’t just about getting help when you need to work – it’s also about coping when you’re looking after the baby yourself.
One of the biggest challenges is the lack of sleep. It can take a while for newborns to develop regular sleeping patters, which means plenty of late nights, early mornings and midnight pacing for parents.
There are resources available to parents with restless children in the UK
, including sleep clinics and experts who offer advice and check-ups over the phone – but Australia has taken it to the next level.
, once the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, has a programme where parents and the babies can spend a four-night period at one of three centres, with qualified nurses, perfecting their sleep patterns. Children have to be referred by a health professional and it’s covered by Medicare – Australia’s basic healthcare system.
By comparison, sleep clinics in the UK are privatised, and consultations could be outside your price range.
How can the UK’s childcare improve?
Parents in the UK are already benefiting from one aspect of modernisation in childcare.
‘The fact that childcare is now easily accessible online has completely changed the industry,’ says Richard. ‘Parents can find a childcarer in their area, get evening and weekend support, and choose their chosen provider. The amount of choice available to parents is the biggest change in the last few years.’
However, there’s more that can be done.
‘Helping parents more with childcare and ensuring children are getting the best care possible requires more investment from the government,’ explains Richard, ‘whether that’s helping with costs, investing in childcarers and their qualifications or implementing a new scheme for working parents.’
Although there are countries that have childcare resources the UK doesn’t, we still have access to some useful services – and, as shown by Scotland’s baby box, we’re willing to learn from other nations to improve. However, parents still understandably struggle with the costs of child care – read our article on child care funding options
for more guidance.