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CountingThe cost of raising a child

By Kate Hilpern

Got a spare £209,783.39? The ‘true’ cost of raising a child is more than £200,000, according to new research by 118 118 Money. That includes more than £5k on pocket money per child and £20k in birthday party costs.

Um…that is £11,600 a year. Presumably £23,000 if you have two children. Nearly the average wage. Seriously? Who were they surveying? The Beckhams?

The research, which analysed a range of expected costs from conception to age 18, claims to take into account general living costs (such as childcare and education), pre-birth costs (including baby shower costs), as well as other examples like christening costs, gifts, pocket money and hobbies.

It’s by no means the first study to make such wild claims. Even back in 2015, national newspapers reported that parents face bills of almost a quarter of a million pounds to raise just one child (in that case, to the age of 21). The study they were reporting on, carried out by the Centre of Economic and Business Research (CEBR) for the insurer LV, found parents had cut back on spending on toys and even food but savings were being swallowed up by other rising costs.

Surging childcare fees and expenses linked to education, concluded the report, brought the basic cost of bringing up a child in the UK 50 per cent faster than inflation since 2003, when the survey was first carried out. Its more recent studies had less press coverage but found similar results, claiming in 2016 that households spend around 38 per cent of their combined net income on raising a child.

No wonder the reports said the expense of kids could be shaping the population, with some parents actively postponing of ruling out having a second child because of the cost, while almost half of mothers say they’ve been forced to go back to work earlier than they wanted or taken on extra work to help pay the bills.

But other studies appear to tell a different story.

NatWest’s more recent research, for example, found it costs £192,187 to raise a child from birth to 17 (note it’s a different age again, though), while a study from last year by Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) claimed that bringing up a child to the age of 18 will cost couples a much lower (but still worrying) £150,753. Each year, the centre forecasts the amount of money it would take to bring up a child – including paying for rent and childcare – based on what members of the public identify as (again, note the difference here) essentials (not the pocket money and birthday parties, then).

The results have been published in a report by the charity Child Poverty Action Group and include the cost of caring for a child until adulthood for a single parent, for which the 2018 total stands at £183,335. Interestingly, the study found both figures have fallen since last year when the cost for couples was £155,142, and for lone parents, £187,120.

Not that the drop in expenditure has necessarily made families’ lives easier, claims the report. Author Donald Hirsch said that despite the introduction of the ‘national living wage’, low-paid families working full-time are still unable to earn enough to meet their families’ needs.

Just to further complicate things, a report from December 2018 – again done for LV - found the total cost of raising a child to 18 is £75,233 for a couple and £101,883 for a single parent. Confused? The critical difference here is that these costs exclude housing, childcare and council tax. Troublingly, the report still found that families at the lower end of the earning bracket are struggling to make ends meet.

A complex picture, then, and a lesson to us all to always look behind the figures of reports that give a ballpark figure of bringing up kids. How many years do they count as ‘childhood’? Do the costs include basics like rent or mortgage? What about private school fees and the likes of baby showers which, let’s face it, are well out of reach for huge portions of the population? And where did the ‘evidence’ come from anyway – a survey, predictions or bringing together a whole bunch of other studies?

If one thing is undisputable, however, it’s that’s life isn’t getting easier for families on low or modest incomes – with lone parents hit particularly hard – and that those with higher incomes are apparently splashing out obscene amounts on their offspring.

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