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CHILDREN

‘We had forgotten how lucky we are to live in Sweden… until we went abroad’

OPINION: The Local contributor Paul Connolly writes about how a holiday abroad made him realize how lucky he is to be raising his daughters in Sweden.

'We had forgotten how lucky we are to live in Sweden... until we went abroad'
A Swedish pre-school. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

The incident unfolded almost in slow-motion, as if time itself couldn’t believe what was happening.

Our four-year-old twins, Caitlin and Leila, were playing in a small playground in a Turkish resort when a girl of about eight walked up to Caitlin, who was about to climb the slide, and punched her in the face, knocking her down.

There had been no provocation. The girl just wanted to go on the slide first and had been unwilling to wait.

My girlfriend and I were sitting, having dinner, about ten metres away.

I rushed over to make sure Caitlin was OK. She was physically fine, but was obviously shocked and distressed, so I held her. And then turned my attention to the assailant. All I did was look at her sternly before she started to cower and plead with me in what I assumed was Russian.

Since our girls were born in Sweden just over four years ago we’d not left the country. Donna and I were too busy with the twins and with trying to build our professional lives in a new country.

But this summer we spent a few days in the UK before heading off to Turkey for our first summer holiday as a family.

Given the Brexit vote we weren’t too surprised to find that civic life in the UK had coarsened since we left five years ago. But seeing life through the lens of being a father of daughters was remarkable. And not in a good way.

It wasn’t just the way I saw women being catcalled by men in the street.

Or that I overheard men making openly lascivious remarks to women.

Sadly, those morons existed before Brexit emboldened the reactionary and dim to air their prejudices and insecurities.

But this misogyny had even seemed to affect those who should know better.

One friend with an adolescent daughter teased her mercilessly over the fact that she didn’t want to shave her legs. Called her Hairy Mary.

Another friend laughed at his daughter’s suggestion that she could play football professionally.

When did this happen? When did it become acceptable to demean girls and women in the UK?

When we arrived in Turkey, the difference in how females are regarded was even more palpable. Female airport security guards were not allowed to pat down male passengers. There were far fewer women in obvious positions of authority.

However, it was at the resort, run by a very well-known French operator, where the differences were most notable.

There was a large contingent of Russian families at the resort, mostly unaccompanied by fathers. The kids were out of control – aggressive and terribly behaved. The adults were not much better. They were rude, obnoxious and showing levels of entitlement I’d not encountered since I’d worked as a waiter at the Henley Festival in the UK.

Even the kids’ club, a feature for which the French travel company has an enviable reputation, had obvious problems.

When I mentioned that the girls wanted to play football one morning, the staff member responsible for the activity looked at me as if I were a little unhinged.

“No,” she explained slowly, as if trying to explain astrophysics to a toddler, “the boys play football and the girls can sit in the park and pick flowers or something.”

Due largely to the antics of some of the other kids, our girls loathed the kids’ club. One morning, just as we turned up with the girls, one boy punched another child in the face. The staff did nothing. Our girls were terrified by the violence.

After five calm, measured years in Sweden we almost felt as though we were amongst savages. Other nations seem aeons behind Sweden.

Despite the barbarism we witnessed, we did enjoy our break.

It was great to feel real heat for the first time in years and, as a family, we had fun in the pools and sea. Leila learned to swim and Caitlin threw herself at the waves.

However, we were glad to be back home in Sweden.

We know we live in one of the best countries in the world to raise daughters.

But we'd become quite blasé about how lucky we are to live in a country which values its young and its females.

In Sweden, it’s a major event if the girls have even the tiniest row with one of their friends at dagis.

There is no violence, no intimidation, and nobody to tell my girls they can’t play football.

Paul Connolly is a Skellefteå-based writer and occasional contributor to The Local. Follow him on Twitter and read more of his writing on The Local.

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How does the cost of childcare in Sweden compare to other countries?

Parents in Sweden benefit from a cap on childcare costs, with parents paying different fees based on their household's income. But how does the generous scheme compare to other countries?

How does the cost of childcare in Sweden compare to other countries?

Preschool childcare is not free in Sweden, but fees are income-based, with a maximum fee across the country 1,572 kronor (€145) per child per month (fees for 2022).

There are also deductions for each child if you have multiple children attending preschool at the same time – in this case the maximum fee would be 1,048 kronor for the second child and 503 kronor for the third, with parents paying no fee for any further children.

Children over three are entitled to 15 hours of free preschool education per week, so these are deducted from your fee once your child reaches this age.

To get an idea of how much you would have to pay based on your income, you can use this calculator (in Swedish – similar calculators exist for other municipalities). These fees are adjusted yearly by the Swedish school authorities and are applicable to all municipalities. If your child has a preschool place, you have to pay even if you do not use it – over summer or during holidays, for example.

School meals and preschool meals are free in Sweden, meaning you don’t need to pay extra for your child’s lunch, breakfast, or any snacks served during the day.

Denmark

The exact amount parents pay for childcare in Denmark depends on the municipality. In Copenhagen Municipality, the cost of nursery (vuggestue up to 2 years and 10 months) is 4,264 kroner a month including lunch (roughly €573). For kindergarten (børnehave from 2 years and 10 months to 6 years) it is 2,738 kroner a month including lunch (roughly €368).

The government pays 75 percent of the cost of a place or even more if your household income is below a certain threshold. 

If you have more than one child using childcare, you pay full price for the most expensive daycare and half-price for the others.

Norway

The cost of nursery and kindergarten is capped at 3,050 Norwegian kroner, regardless of the hours attended or whether that facility is state-run or private. This means you’ll never pay more than roughly €295 a month per child in childcare costs.

Germany

The costs for daycare centres (Kindertagesstätte, or Kita for short) can differ greatly depending on where you live in Germany, as the fees are set by the local government.

In Schleswig-Holstein in the far north, parents pay on average nine percent of their after-tax income on childcare costs. In Hamburg, 4.4 percent of parent’s income goes on childcare as every child in entitled to five hours of free care a day. In Berlin, daycare is completely free. 

Spain

Costs can vary depending on whether it is a  private or public guardería or centro infantil (as nurseries are called in Spanish).

Public ones are heavily subsidised by the government and cost around €100-260 per month, depending on where you live in Spain and your situation. Private nurseries cost between €150 and €580 per month. There is also a fixed yearly fee called a matrícula or enrolment fee, which is around €100.

There is a 50 percent discount for large families and single parents don’t have to pay anything for childcare.

There’s also a deduction of up to €1,000 (cheque guardería) that is applied to the income tax return and works out at around €100 to €160 per month which is aimed at working mothers and is available up until the child is three years old.

France

In France, crèches tend to be the most affordable option and the cost is based on the family’s income. High earners might pay up to a maximum of €4.20 an hour (€33.60 for an 8-hour day), whereas low-income families might pay €0.26 an hour (€2.08 for an 8-hour day) at a crèche collective, which is for three months to three year olds. At the age of three, compulsory education begins in France.

The cost of a childminder is around €10.88 an hour and up to 50 percent of the costs of a nanny or professional childminder can be reimbursed by the government.

The OECD calculations on the percentage of income spent on childcare – based on two parents both working full time – is 13 percent in France. This is roughly similar to Spain and Italy.

Austria

Public nurseries and kindergartens are heavily subsidised and in some cases free, depending on where you live. For example in Vienna, parents only need to pay €72.33 a month to cover meal costs, with low income families being exempt from that fee.
 
Vienna also subsidises private kindergartens, paying up to €635.44 a month directly to the institution. 
 
In other provinces, kindergarten is free for part-time hours. It is mandatory for all children in Austria to attend part-time kindergarten from the age of five. They start school aged six.

Switzerland

The average Swiss family spends a massive 41 percent of their net income on childcare, three times the OECD average of 13 percent.

The average cost of childcare in Switzerland is CHF130 a day (€136). Due to tax breaks and subsidies paid out in the cantons, many parents will pay between 30 and 80 percent of this cost, depending on income. This equates to paying between €41 and €108 a day, roughly €902 to €2,376 a month. 

It’s even more expensive to hire a nannie, which will cost between CHF3,500 (€3,678) and CHF5,000 (€5,255) a month, including mandatory pension contributions.

United Kingdom

According to charity Coram in their Childcare Survey 2022, the average cost of full-time nursery is £1,166 (around €1,304 a month), which is even higher in some parts of London. There are some government subsidies available for low-income families and those receiving benefits and every parent is entitled to 15 or 30 free hours of childcare the term after their child turns three years old.

Childcare conclusion

The cost of childcare varies within each country, depending on family circumstances. However, for guaranteed low childcare costs for every parent, Sweden comes out best, with a maximum of €145 a month.

Average monthly cost of state-run childcare:

Sweden: €145 maximum

Norway: €295 maximum

Austria: €72.33 – roughly €500

Spain: €100 – €260 

Germany: €0 –  €368

Denmark: €368 – €573

France: €45,76 – €739.20 

Switzerland: €902 – €2,376 

U.K. €1,304 which reduces the term after the child turns three.

By Emma Firth and Becky Waterton

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