Barriers to work

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • Poor health is the single most frequently stated barrier to work by both men and women with a half of men and a quarter of women giving this as a reason.
  • Aside from poor health, the most frequently stated reasons for women not being able to work are caring responsibilities (16%) and childcare (15%).  For men, the second most common reason is ‘lack of/unsuitable jobs available locally’ (23%).
  • If caring responsibilities for both adults and children are combined, it becomes the single biggest barrier to work for women (around 30%).  Note that this excludes those not working because they want to look after their children.
  • The proportion of women stating childcare as a barrier to work is likely to be have been greater if the sample included only those women with children.  For example, at a UK level, research found that the most frequently mentioned barrier to work among lone parents related to childcare, with half reporting a lack of suitable childcare in their area. 1
  • The number of children per registered childcare place is much higher in the Valleys than in other parts of Wales.  For example, there are 19 children for every childcare place in Blaenau Gwent compared to three for every place in Denbighshire.  Most authorities in Wales have fewer than six children per place.
  • Registered childcare places are not the only form of childcare that is used. 70% of parents in Wales, whether by choice or not, rely on informal arrangements, especially grandparents. 2, The Bevan Foundation, 2005.
  • Childcare is a particular barrier to work among lone parents. 3  Around 40% of lone parents working less than 16 hours per week said that problems of finding or affording childcare were preventing them from working, or working more. 4

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the main reasons for not working for men and women who are not working but want to work.  Respondents are asked to identify the main reasons why they are not working at the moment.  Note that individuals can state more than one reason for not working.  Note also that the figure referring to ‘childcare’ is a combination of the two responses in the survey – ‘childcare not available’, and ‘childcare too expensive’; and that ‘carer’ refers to someone with responsibility for a family/household member other than a child.

The proportions do not add up to 100% because respondents can state more than one reason, and because there are other (less frequently identified) reasons for not working that are not included in the graph.

The data source for the first graph is the Future Skills Wales Household Survey 2003 (the data is not publicly available).

The second graph shows the number of registered childcare places per children aged 0-8 in each local authority.  Registered childcare places include provision through childminder provision, crèches, full day care and sessional day care.

The data source for the second graph is the QA Plus Database of the Welsh Assembly Government, supplied by the Care Standards Inspectorate for Wales (the data is not publicly available).  The data is for 2004.

Overall adequacy: limited (first graph), medium (second graph).  In the first graph, the sample size is small and it may be that some people are reluctant to identify their reason for not working.  In the second graph, the data is comprehensive and updated on a continuous basis.  However, it does not capture informal childcare, such as relatives and friends looking after children.


1. Coleman, N. et al., National evaluation of lone parent personal adviser meetings: findings from a longitudinal survey of clients, BMRB Social Research prepared for the Department of Work and Pensions, 2003.
2. A ‘childcare revolution’ in Wales
3. Making the case for care, a scoping study on the impact of care provision on the Welsh economy, Chwarae Teg, University of Bangor and the Welsh Assembly Government, 2003.
4. Department for Work and Pensions (2003).  In Raising economic activity rates, Welsh Assembly Government, 2004.