According to the OECD, the UK is the third most expensive country for childcare. An estimated 1.7 million women in England are prevented from doing more hours of work by childcare issues, while a UNICEF report this week shows that almost 1 in 5 parents on low incomes are skipping meals to pay for it. On Saturday, 12,000 mums will descend on 11 locations across the UK to demand government reform in a ‘March of the Mummies’ organised by the campaign group Pregnant then Screwed. Its founder Joeli Brearley tells us why.

From tax-free childcare to the 30 free hours offer, why do we have the childcare policies that we do? Who are they supposed to target and who really benefits? We discuss with Christine Farquharson, senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Megan Jarvie, Head of Family and Childcare at the charity Coram.

The number of childcare providers in England has dropped by 4000 between March 2021 and March 2022. A survey of 2,000 early years providers in March found 30% were currently operating at a loss, while 34% said they expected to be in 12 months' time. Meanwhile a 2020 report from the Social Mobility Commission shows that one in eight nursery workers earned less than £5 an hour. To discuss the challenges facing the sector, we speak to Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance and Jennie Bailey, owner of a nursery in Hampshire.

What are the opportunities and challenges of employing working parents? Elaine Stern is a mother of three and owner of a marketing and production agency employing 35 workers. She discusses how requests for flexible-working or a lack of accessible affordable childcare can impact on business.

How can we arrive at an accessible, affordable, high quality childcare system in the UK? We ask our panel, including Jemima Olchawski CEO of the Fawcett Society, whether government proposals to deregulate the childcare sector will work, how other countries compare to the UK, and whether the sometime conflicting needs of parents, children, providers and employers can be reconciled.

Presenter: Elaine Dunkley
Producer: Lucy Wai
Producer: Kirsty Starkey

Interviewed Guest: Joeli Brearly
Interviewed Guest: Megan Jarvie
Interviewed Guest: Christine Farquharson
Interviewed Guest: Jennie Bailey
Interviewed Guest: Neil Leitch
Interviewed Guest: Elaine Stern
Interviewed Guest: Jemime Olchawski