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Grandparents, the 19 billion freebie

Grandparents have always been a great asset to their families. In every culture, generation after generation they enrich our kids lives with extra unconditional love and devotion, not to mention countless hours of great storytelling.

What is often overlooked, however, is the financial support that comes in addition to all these amazing things.

HootLoot has tried to put some numbers against this invaluable assistance , compiling data from the latest polls and research studies carried out in the UK.

A recent report commissioned by the excellent UK charity “Save the Children” together with other UK based charities (Time to care: generation generosity under pressure) established that grandparents have provided a total of £19 billion (!) of financial support in the past year to their grandchildren and their families.


The hard cash

A total of £8 billion was allegedly paid in cash and gifts. Up to 12% of the grandparents interviewed said they have spent over £1,000 a year on their grandchildren, a further 17% said to have given between £500 and £1,000 and a further 34% or 4.5 million grandparents have given between £100 - £500.

Another poll by RIAS insurance estimates the overall contribution to be on average £1700 per grandchild per year.

Seniors' favourite ways of participating to their grandchildren's lives are:

    • cash gifts to help large purchases like a first bike or a car,
    • payments into savings accounts
    • help with saving for University 

Regular pocket money top-ups were also very common, especially during visit times or as a reward for good marks at school.

This is an impressive amount of support, especially considering that the figures mentioned above are per child per year. Considering that the average UK grandparent has 4 grandchildren and up to a third of grandparents has 5, one wonders how they can even get by to feed themselves!

In as much as those figures are truly impressive, they don't even represent half of the value of grandparents contributions.


The free childcare 

Many grandparents also provide free regular childcare to their grandchildren. In the UK alone RIAS estimates that about 47% (i.e. 5.8 million!!!) grandparents look after their grandchildren for an average of 10 hours per week.

This represents a whopping £1,830 in childcare savings per year per family, which on a national level totals approximately £11billion of saved costs. (thankfully the taxman isn't onto this!)


Quantity, quality . . . and flexibility!

Overall the total average contribution of Grandma and Grandpa to the life of their families is in the order of £3,500 per year for the first child. The second child is a little less because of some economies of scale in looking after 2 or more kids versus just 1 (although we haven't been able to convince the nursery of this). 

Lets put this number into perspective – the UK government offers £1060 per child per year via the Child Benefits scheme. The value that granparents generate is more than 3 times this number.

Furthermore there is generally no compromise when it comes to quality of childcare with Grandma. Add to this the flexibility, availability at call and lack of overtime / need to pay for a taxi home make grandparents incomparable to other options like nurseries, nannies or childminders. It remains the favourite choice to cover for kids' sickness and school holidays and it seems that kids are happier too. After all, grandparents are the same as parents, just with "silver hair and hearts of gold".



In order to carry out their commitments, grandparents are prepared to go to great lengths. Many of them travelling across the country every week. 

Millie, 4 and Finn, 2, two very good friends of HootLoot who live in London, are lucky to have both sets of Grandparents look after them, taking turns one day a week. Granny and Grandpa Rigg travel 2 hours on a train from Bolton near Manchester, whilst Granny and Grandpa Maclean drive over from Reading braving the M25 traffic. They have done so for over 3 years and helped mum and Dad greatly, particularly when Mum returned to work.

They told us enthusiastically of the fun they have with the kids and are even happy to work extra time on weekends helping out at birthday parties or having the kids staying over whilst mum and dad enjoy some down time!

The whole family understands the value of this arrangement as both sets of Grandparents had the chance to develop an amazing relationship with their grandchildren, which they wouldn't otherwise have had given how far away they live.


Working nans 

Another poll from the UK Trade Union Congress established that working grandparents are more likely (63%) to look after their grandchildren than retired grandparents (55%). The record number of people now working into their late 60s means that many are taking on childcare responsibilities while they are still working.

Many grandparents had to put their own careers on hold because of the lack of workplace provisions to help them deliver this invaluable type of support. Approximately 1.9 million of UK grandparents have reduced their working hours, given up a job, or taken time off to care for a grandchild.

Of course not all grandparents are dedicated to provide such a high level of support for the new generations, but the ones that do seem to be often taken for granted by both their families and society as a whole.

According to the "Time to care" report, 7 in 10 (69%) grandparents say they feel the financial, practical and caring contribution they make is not recognised.

At national level, more can be done to validate these efforts and facilitate our seniors. Introducing statutory work absence allowance to care for grandchildren or increasing the tax breaks on pensions for grandparents that provide regular care are only some of the areas the Government could help.

On a personal level the satisfaction in being part of their grandchildren's lives and the sense of achievement for helping out is sufficient to justify the efforts. One hopes busy parents and kids are aware of the great support they receive and will spare some time to write that thank you card or travel a little longer to have a cuppa with Nana!



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