As our report today shows the cost of childcare is crippling many middle income families, the very people who want to work, build a career, buy a home and provide for their old age.
Yet they find themselves wondering if there is any merit in working at all. For they are paying out a staggering £16,000 a year if they have two children in childcare. That practically wipes out one of the two family incomes.
What is particularly galling for these families is that the whole thrust of welfare reform is to encourage more people to come off benefits and go into paid employment. But what is the incentive for anyone to take that step? At the moment someone of very low income or unemployed will get assistance with childcare costs, but those on middle incomes merely find themselves working to pay someone else to look after their children.
Of course identifying the problem is the easy part of the equation. The Executive has drafted plans to address the issue of childcare, which will be put out for consultation next week. The ideal answer would be for the state to provide many more free childcare places, but that is unlikely at a time of retrenchment in public spending. More financial assistance towards after school clubs would also help ease the burden.
Yet it is obvious there is no magic wand. Those who work in the public sector may be able to avail of career breaks so that can shorten the period when children need to be looked after. But it is certainly not an option for women in the private sector who are encouraged to return to work as quickly as possible. Part-time employment is another option, but that penalises mothers who want to build the foundations for a career which could blossom when the children are more self-sufficient. The remaining option is to live near grandparents and hope that they find looking after their grandchildren a boon rather than a chore.
It works for many, but is not always a practical alternative.