iMacAs childcare costs increase, an increasing number of women are turning to self employment to boost the family income.
High unemployment and rocketing living costs mean that times are tough if you're searching for a job right now.

And there's evidence that it's a particularly bad time for women – they are losing their jobs at a disproportionately higher rate than men, according to the online skills marketplace PeoplePerHour.

In fact, female unemployment is now at a 25-year high, prompting growing numbers of women to ditch the workplace and become freelancers. They're flexible, skilled and using technology to work remotely – they are mumpreneurs.

The rise of mumpreneurs
OK, the word is horrible - and its alternative 'mumtrepreneur' isn't much better - but it does illustrate a growing trend. Increasing numbers of women are choosing to freelance or set up their own companies once they become parents.

PeoplePerHour has seen a 38% surge in the number of women registering over the last six months, compared to a 22% increase for men.


This is partly down to high unemployment but also the record cost of childcare. Research from the Daycare Trust shows that nursery costs have risen by almost 6% for under-twos, well above inflation.

Because of that, many mums are instead fitting freelancing around their children, balancing care with their partners and often working late into the night.

A case in point
Not to turn this article into a navel-gazing exercise, but I'm a good example of this trend, having given up full-time employment last year when my son was born.

My commute and the long hours expected of a journalist simply didn't feel compatible with motherhood. Not only that, the high cost of childcare meant that I wouldn't be taking home much money despite working a full-time, demanding job.

I wasn't willing or able to simply stop working but I also didn't want to take a part-time job in an industry I didn't care about just because it was closer to home.

So I turned freelance. At first, I worked around my baby, sometimes balancing both my sleeping son and laptop on my knee at the same time. But as he grew older, I've had to adapt. I work most evenings and he has a babysitter for a few mornings a week.

Becoming a mumpreneur
Among the mums I know, there are several freelancers and business start-ups. One mum left her HR role and is now a consultant; another is setting up a childminding business with a long-term strategy to develop a full nursery.

If your current job isn't something you could transform into a freelance opportunity then consider what transferable skills you might have. For example, one mum I know is selling picture frames at wedding fairs to earn some extra cash, and she intends to expand her business once her child is older.

Being realistic

While turning freelance does give you more flexibility and control over when you work, it won't necessarily give you more time. Many mothers find that they have to work full-time hours or longer in order to earn enough to live on. And that's especially true if they're trying to develop a successful business.

However, being self-employed does give you far greater control over those hours, allowing you to divide the work up around the demands of family life. But it's certainly not an easy option for most mums, so it's important to schedule in some downtime, as well as time with your partner.

Before I arranged my childcare, my husband would get back from work and then look after our baby while I worked. We barely ate a meal together and neither of us had any time to relax.

That's not a recipe for a successful business or marriage.

Finding support
I don't know what people did before the internet. Would-be freelancers and existing mumpreneurs can access a wealth of support online, and there are even dedicated conferences and networking events for working mums.

Websites like Mumpreneur UK can provide specific support, while PCG offers more general advice and support for freelancers.

Can't turn your skills to freelance?
Of course, not everyone can simply turn their existing job into a freelance gig or come up with an inspired business plan. But there's still plenty of scope for becoming self employed.

Some mothers combine caring for their own children with work as a registered childminder. They are trained, registered with Ofsted and regularly inspected.

There are grants available to help cover start-up costs and your local authority will run advice sessions on becoming a registered, qualified childminder.

The unfair childcare voucher system
For me, freelancing gives me a work/life balance that's as close to ideal as I can manage. There aren't many workplaces that could allow me this flexibility. However, childcare is still an issue – and it's an issue the government should address.

If the Government wants entrepreneurs to help kick-start the economy then it has a funny way of showing it. The current system actively discriminates against freelancers by making childcare more expensive for them than for PAYE employees.

Employees can benefit from the childcare voucher scheme, where employers arrange for staff to use salary sacrifice to buy their childcare out of their pre-tax income. This can save a worker over £900 a year, so it makes a real difference.

However, there's no such scheme for the self-employed. If you're a freelancer then you can't put childcare through your books as a cost, so you can't pay for it out of your pre-tax income.

You have to pay for childcare out of your taxed earnings, costing you around £300 more for every £1,000-worth of care you buy.

There was some expectation that George Osborne would address this in his last Budget, but he didn't. That means that freelancers are still paying more unless they set up their own limited companies and work through those, which isn't practical for many people.

With growing numbers of mothers freelancing because they simply can't find work elsewhere or because they need the flexibility of being their own boss, I believe the Government really needs to take action to ensure many self-employed mums and dads aren't penalised.

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