Family childcare : supporting daily lives and livelihoods
Childcare provided by extended family members (mainly grandparents), operating in the non-marketed, unpaid, informal economy, accounts for the largest proportion of all childcare used by working parents in the UK. Yet policymakers continue to consider childcare needs and provision in terms of formal childcare only such as day nurseries, registered childminders and out-of-school clubs. This thesis provides much needed insight into the socio-cultural, political and economic processes which influence childcare selection, observing the way in which individual (or household) agency and structural constraints interact and highlighting the potential tension between social well-being and economic rationality. This is considered within the context of household provisioning, and the interdependence of the complementary (or informal) and formal economies, by demonstrating the vital role of `family childcare' as an unpaid contribution from mainly non-resident grandparents which complements the formal economy by allowing parents to work, while also contributing to household livelihoods and the social well being of working parents. The positive and negative aspects of the family childcare relationship have been explored in an empirical study of two socio-economically contrasting city wards of Newcastle upon Tyne, providing statistical evidence of the high levels of use of 'family childcare' in particular, presented with other data which offers a more `rounded understanding' of the parents' and childcarers' subjective experience. This in-depth study contributes to the contemporary debates about family obligation and normative consensus, and the 'nature of care' and whether or not care provided by family (or friends and neighbours) should be paid. The key warning from this study is that the current 'taken for granted' view held by the UK Government ignores the potential for family conflict created by excessive dependence on family childcare, and the objective consequences in terms of lost income and future pension entitlements for those providing it (mainly grandparents). The longer-term implications for the planning of childcare provision are considered, focusing on ways in which the beneficial aspects of the family childcare relationship could be preserved, at least on a part-time basis, by providing proper short and longterm support. This looks to the future of the value of care in all of society, recognising that formal childcare has a part to play, but that not everyone wants to relinquish all care to the market, calling for systems that facilitate the combination of childcare to fit the social, moral and economic circumstances of parents and carers.