NI families spending 'more on childcare than food and heat'

The study reveals many parents are under financial stress due to childcare with providers also in a similar position. Credit: PA

A new report has found that many families in Northern Ireland say they are spending more on childcare than food and heat.

‘Employers for Childcare’ has launched the 9th Annual Northern Ireland ChildCare Cost Report which assesses the impact on parents and providers.

The study found that two thirds of families reported their childcare bill as their largest or second largest monthly bill, second only to housing costs.

The figure has been described as ‘startling’ and the organisation has called for Government to do more to support working families and childcare providers.

The study found the average cost of a full-time childcare place has dropped but the ability to afford and access childcare is still a significant issue for thousands of families.

Employers For Childcare say the vast majority of parents are happy with the quality of childcare they receive.

Aoife Hamilton, Policy & Information Manager said: “Over half of the parents who responded to the Survey stated they have had to cut back or go without to meet their childcare costs. In fact, some have had to resort to borrowing, using payday loans to meet their bill. At the same time, many childcare providers told us they have sought not to increase their fees over the past year, in some cases absorbing increasing overheads, rather than passing them on to parents. This situation is simply not sustainable for parents or childcare providers in the longer term.”

One third of parents reported in this year’s survey that they used means other than their income to pay for childcare, including credit cards.

Means used other than income to pay for childcare Credit: Employers For Childcare

County Armagh continues to have the highest average cost of a full-time childcare place, £179 per week, whilst County Fermanagh experiences the lowest average full-time childcare costs of £148 per week.

59% of families say they use a mix of formal and informal arrangements to cover childcare.

Average childcare spend and hours used across Northern Ireland. Credit: Employers For Childcare

There are now calls for childcare support in Northern Ireland to be brought into line with England, where eligible families can receive 30 hours of free childcare for three to four-year olds.

Aoife Hamilton said: “Families recognise that it is costly to deliver quality childcare, which is why they are expressing their frustration that the sector here is receiving less investment than in other parts of the UK. Introducing policies such as the ‘30-hours free childcare’ would go a long way to alleviating some of the hardship or difficulties experienced by local working families”.

She added: “The message coming from parents is therefore very clear – they want proper investment from Government in a childcare infrastructure that is affordable, flexible and meets the needs of families. Alongside this they are calling for an early years system on a level with other parts of the UK, and access to the financial support needed to ensure going out to work will always pay. As we enter 2019, Employers For Childcare will continue to make it our mission to lobby Government for a better deal for working parents and childcare providers”.