'I might as well quit my job': Parents report nursery fee hikes of over £2,000

Demonstrators take part in the March of the Mummies national protest in central London. The protest is organised by Pregnant Then Screwed to demand Government reform on childcare, parental leave and flexible working. Picture date: Saturday October 29, 2022. PA
Demonstrators take part in the March of the Mummies national protest in London organised by Pregnant Then Screwed. Credit: PA

By ITV News content producer Talia Shadwell

Parents are reporting being hit by nursery fee increases of 10%, sparking fresh pleas for the government to find a solution to soaring childcare costs.

New figures reveal many nurseries around the UK are preparing to hike fees, with some parents already telling of increases topping £2,000 annually.

New research from Pregnant then Screwed revealed nursery fees have already risen - or are set to rise in the next two months - for eight in ten parents surveyed.

One-third of the 3,407 parents surveyed told the advocacy group their fees have risen by at least 10%.

In a survey of an additional 1,691 parents, 34% said costs had increased by more than 10% in the last two monthsPressure is growing on the government to act on childcare, as families squeezed by the cost of living crisis and inflation struggle to make ends meet.

Some parents say it is fast becoming more cost-effective to quit their jobs than to pay for childcare so they can work.

Charlotte from Rochester, who has two children attending nursery full-time, said her childcare bill had increased by an additional £2,893.80 per year from January 2023.

She said: “I might as well quit my job now. I’m going to be going through our budgets to see what we should do, and then if I decide I need to leave the workplace.”

Pregnant then Screwed, which is campaigning for officials to take action to reduce childcare costs, is warning parents are being driven out of work due to rocketing nursery fees.

The group has criticised the government, saying it has failed to offer support to the Early Years sector.

It also says the government's actions have driven childcare cost increases, when it hiked the national living wage without providing enough additional funding support to nurseries.

Parents have previously told ITV News they are being forced to reduce their working hours to part-time, as the cost of nursery fees effectively outweighs their salaries.

Nursery providers said they struggled to retain staff, claiming their budgets were being drained by shouldering the mounting cost of providing subsidised childcare places.

How much does childcare cost in the UK? OECD data recently showed that the UK has the most expensive childcare in the developed world.

Campaigners are warning rising costs put childcare out of reach for the majority of families.

Analysis by the charity Coram last year found there is not a single area of England where the average cost of childcare fulltime works out to under £14,000 annually.

Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said: “The UK recently topped the charts as the country with the most expensive early year’s education in the developed world.

"Instead of taking swift, decisive action to prevent more parents from falling out of the labour market, the government actually managed to make the problem worse.

"Nurseries aren’t to blame for these price hikes, we are set to see thousands more close their doors due to underfunding from the government, and the cost of living crisis.

"The blame lies firmly at the door of number 10." Ms Brearley said the government must take early years education "seriously."

She highlighted 2018 government research that showed nearly one million stay-at-home mothers would return to the workforce if childcare was more affordable.Ms Brearley continued: "When we invest in childcare we are investing not only in parents but in the economy. It’s as simple as that.

"As things stand we are pushing 870,000 mothers out of the workplace who want to work, forcing 1.7 million parents to drop their hours to accommodate for eyewateringly expensive childcare costs, and pushing families into poverty.

"We need an urgent intervention, before things get any worse.”

Rishi Sunak and wife Akshata Murty attend a parenting workshop during a visit to a family hub in St Austell, central Cornwall Credit: Ben Stansall/PA

What is the government doing about rising childcare costs?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to address the issue of rising costs, saying he wanted a childcare system in Britain that was “affordable and convenient” for parents.

Labour has warned the government there is a “crisis” in the early-years sector, calling on ministers to increase childcare funding.A report in the Guardian last week claimed Treasury is considering a plan submitted by the Department for Education to extend the 30-hour free childcare places to one and two-year-olds.

Presently, working parents are eligible for up to 30 hours of free childcare a week once their child turns three, dependent on some conditions.

All parents of three and four-year-olds are eligible for 15 hours free early education per week.

Parents who sign up to Tax Free Childcare can get a government contribution of £2 for every £8 they deposit into an online childcare account, cutting up to £2,000 off the cost of their childcare bill annually until their child turns 11, or up to £4,000 if their child is disabled, up to age 17.Working parents on Universal Credit can claim back up to 85% of childcare costs every month.

But campaigners say the status quo leaves an expensive gap between the end of parental leave and a child's third birthday, and have urged the government to lower the age children become eligible for a free nursery place.

Some advocates are also calling on the government to reform parental leave, including increasing paternity leave allowances in line with other wealthy countries.

Asked by broadcasters what ministers are doing to tackle childcare costs during a visit to one of the government's new 'family hubs' in Cornwall last week, Mr Sunak said: “Definitely part of supporting strong families is making sure we have a really good childcare system that is affordable and convenient for parents.

“So we have lots of different ways to support parents.

“For example, for those on Universal Credit, they can receive 85% of their childcare costs reimbursed, for those working parents with three and four-year-olds, they can get up to 30 hours of free childcare and for other parents they can receive £2,000 a year back through something called tax-free childcare.

“But I know not everyone always understands these different offers, so I would urge people to go online, look at the help for households website on gov.uk where you can see the type of support available for childcare, because it is important that we support families with childcare and there are a range of ways we do that.”

Mr Sunak has been urged not to shelve childcare reform proposals his predecessor was working on.

The short-lived Liz Truss government's proposals reportedly included a plan to axe mandated nursery child-staff ratios, in a bid to increase available nursery places.

Ms Truss was also reportedly planning to propose an increase in free childcare support by 20 hours a week.

According to the Telegraph, she was additionally working on a plan to create of new “childminder agencies” under a French-style system to cut the cost of childcare.Critics, including Coram and Pregnant then Screwed, have warned it would be unsafe to axe nursery child-staff ratios, and would reduce the quality of the care.

Department for Education (DfE) figures say the number of childcare places available to families in England has remained broadly stable since 2015.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We recognise that families and early years providers across the country are facing financial pressures and we are currently looking into options to improve the cost, flexibility, and availability of childcare.

“We have spent more than £20 billion over the past five years to support families with the cost of childcare and the number of places available in England has remained stable since 2015, with thousands of parents benefitting from this.”

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