Northern Ireland needs its own model for affordable childcare, Assembly told

A fully 'up-and-running childcare strategy' for Northern Ireland could cost at least £400million, Education Minister Paul Givan has revealed.

The minister said the money would both stabilise the current childcare provision, as well as extend it. Executive parties have committed to making childcare a priority.

The Assembly was told Northern Ireland needs its own bespoke model to provide affordable childcare for parents and families.

MLAs were told that the current financial burden of childcare means that many families are having to use credit cards and loans, while some providers are closing their doors.

Education Minister Paul Givan has said he will bring an early learning and childcare strategy paper to the Stormont Executive this week. “The development of an early learning and childcare strategy is a top priority for me as education minister," he said. “There is no time to waste and I’ll be bringing an initial paper on this issue to my executive colleagues later this week. It is clear that we have much work to do and I am determined to press ahead at pace.”

He added: “This is about both early learning and childcare. “This strategy will have dual aims, supporting both child development and enabling parental employment. It is about giving children the best start in life and supporting working families. It is important that the work we do and the model we put in place is capable of achieving both. “I am aware that the cost of childcare is putting immense strain on family finances and in some cases is preventing parents, particularly women, from entering and remaining in the workforce and remaining in their careers after they have children.” Mr Givan said the willingness of the Executive to fund the strategy would be the “real test of commitment”.

The Assembly debated a Sinn Fein motion calling for the new Stormont Executive to work collectively to deliver a strategy which makes high quality childcare affordable for all families a priority. Currently, there is no scheme in place for free childcare in Northern Ireland, unlike in England where 30 hours of free childcare a week is offered. Opening the debate, Sinn Fein MLA Nicola Brogan said progress on adopting a childcare strategy had stalled while the powersharing Executive did not sit for two years. She said: “This motion calls on the Executive to work collectively to deliver a strategy which makes high quality affordable childcare for all families a priority. “It is clear that childcare is a massive issue for people across the north right now. “Very often we hear about the rising cost of childcare and the impact this has on parents and families who are already struggling with the cost of living. “We talk about the very real and concerning pressures childcare providers are facing right now in trying to keep their doors open with increased operating costs and difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff.” Ms Brogan said the cost of childcare was having a “crippling effect” on families in Northern Ireland. She added: “According to Employers for Childcare’s most recent survey in 2023, the current average cost for a full-time childcare place is £10,036 a year. “For 41% of families childcare is the highest monthly outgoing ahead of mortgage or rental costs and 56% of families are having to use means other than their income to pay for childcare including savings, credit cards and loans. “These costs are simply unaffordable for families.” Ms Brogan, the chair of the All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare, said the group had examined the English model. “Whilst this sounds good in practice it is not meeting the needs of parents, providers or children. “We need our own model.” The Sinn Fein MLA also said that the cost of childcare was a barrier to women entering employment.

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