Executive urged to implement childcare strategy with 'positive ripple effect' across economy

Pressure is mounting on the Northern Ireland Executive to provide urgent financial intervention, as childcare providers warn the sector is on the brink of collapse.

Despite the new education minister prioritising childcare in his first speech, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a strategy and, according to campaigners, reinvests zero percent of its output into what they describe as a vital part of the economy.

Parents have told UTV they just can't afford any further delay.

Christopher Eisenstadt and his wife Lisbeth Vermeir have spent tens of thousands of pounds paying for their son to be in full-time daycare since he was baby.

Harvey is now three and in nursery and despite reducing his hours to wrap around care, the family say the cost is crippling.

"It still amounts to about £800 a month for the five days, so it is really, really expensive," Mr Eisenstadt said.

In England, parents benefit from childcare support measures which were expanded in March last year to include 30 hours of free provision for children under 5 from September 2025.

In Northern Ireland, four and five-year-olds receive 12.5 hours of free pre-school classes but childcare is not funded.

Daycare owners say they're doing all they can not to pass on rising costs to parents, but they're warning that without urgent intervention the industry could collapse.

"Costs are rising daily," said Ann Bell, a daycare provider in Kircubbin. "It's spiralling, and I'm pretty sure it's the same in every nursery at the minute.

"It reassures us that they [the Executive] are looking at it to this extent, I don't think they have before, but we do need action and we need it soon, as soon as they can provide it.

"It's just a dire situation at the minute and we need some support - but please listen to the people on the ground that are doing the work on a daily basis."

Education Minister Paul Givan says a fully 'up-and-running childcare strategy' would cost an estimated £400million.

The campaign group Melted Parents says funding for a childcare strategy could lead to a positive ripple effect across the economy.

A survey of thousands of parents found almost 80% have considered reducing their hours or giving up their careers altogether due to the soaring costs.

"We have had hundreds of parents contact us to let us know how much this crisis is affecting their family," said Rebecca Harper from Melted Parents.

"Families are trying to survive instead of thrive.

"If the government got it right and invested in childcare, the ripple effect of that: if families have support with childcare bills they're able to work more, progress their career, have more disposable income, which will then get invested back in the economy.

"The positive ripple effect of investing in childcare for the whole of society is endless."

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “The minister has made clear his ambition for the development of an Early Learning and Childcare Strategy as a top priority.

"He is acutely aware that the cost of childcare puts immense strain on family finances and, in some cases, prevents parents from entering and remaining in the workforce.

“The minister is committed to delivering a bespoke and affordable scheme for Northern Ireland that addresses the challenges that we face and delivers the outcomes that we want to achieve.

"He appreciates that putting in place the full infrastructure required will take time and so is also considering what short-term measures might be possible to ease current pressures.

"He intends to engage immediately with parents, providers and other stakeholders to hear firsthand what action needs to be taken to enable the provision of accessible and affordable childcare.

"He will continue to make the case for the funding to progress a strategy as a priority."

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