Help with juggling childcare
One of the reasons I originally chose to work as a freelancer was the desire for a better family life: in my old job, I left home just after my young children got up and returned home after they’d gone to bed. It won’t be that long before my kids don’t want to spend any time with their dad, I reasoned, so I should take advantage of the time when they do.
Still, you can have too much of a good thing: so far this year, there has barely been a day when one or more of my children haven’t been off school – first there was the snow, and now they’ve all come down with horrible lurgy.
For freelancers, that presents a particular challenge. I’m fortunate in that I work predominantly from home, so I have at least been around to provide childcare. But even with well-behaved children and a constant supply of Scooby Doo episodes, it’s been disruptive. It’s meant working longer evenings to make up the time that was spent ministering to sick little ones.
If I spent most of my time with clients, it would have been much more difficult, of course. Employees can have a difficult time too when negotiating time off to look after children unexpectedly, but at least they generally get paid during such periods – contractors who can’t make it on-site for personal reasons don’t.
The debate now raging over the cost of childcare in Britain will certainly strike a chord with freelancers. For most of us have to work out how to cover childcare needs on an ongoing basis, as well as in an occasional crisis.
One benefit I did value highly in my last job was the childcare vouchers I was allowed to take in lieu of pay. Since these vouchers came out of my pre-tax salary I was effectively getting a tax break on the cost of childcare. Now I’m a freelancer, of course, that scheme is no longer an option for me.
At the very least, I’d like to see the concept of childcare vouchers extended into the self-employed sector – perhaps we might be allowed to set a portion of our costs against tax, for example.
More generally, however, the childcare needs of freelancers and others in self-employment need to be addressed as a public policy option. As our numbers expand, so does the scale of the problem.