'How long must we wait?' NI parents' dismay as England childcare plan progresses

A parents' group in Northern Ireland has said it's a crying shame that Northern Ireland still has no free childcare provision on a day when provision in England is being extended.

Melted Parents NI say that peers are quitting jobs, emigrating and choosing to have only one child because of the cost of childcare.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has launched a new free childcare scheme for England to allow eligible families of children from nine months will be able to claim 15 hours of free childcare.

The government claims it will save families almost £7,000 a year, however a number of childcare providers say they don't have the spaces or staff to deliver the funded hours, and parents worry the scheme won't save them as much money as the government promised.

Eligible families of children as young as nine months old in England will be able to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week by September 2025 under the offer.

The scheme is due to be rolled out in three parts, with the first phase beginning on Monday, April 1, as 15 hours of free childcare is offered to working parents of two-year-olds.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, there is no free childcare, and surveys show that the average cost of annual childcare for kids aged 0-4 in NI is over £14,000.

The newly reformed NI Executive has stated that a childcare strategy is a top priority.

The Education Minister recently revealed that fully 'up-and-running childcare strategy' for Northern Ireland could cost at least £400million, and that a bespoke model to provide affordable childcare for parents and families is what's needed.

Becca Harper is co-founder of Melted Parents NI.

“It's crucial that our political leaders grasp the urgency of the situation and take action to address the escalating costs that are burdening families across Northern Ireland," she said.

"Despite assurances from the Executive, we're witnessing a troubling lack of tangible progress, leaving families feeling abandoned and overwhelmed.

"The stories we've collected paint a stark picture of the challenges families are enduring, our Executive talk about economic prosperity – with thousands of parents forced to consider leaving the workforce because childcare costs more than their wages – this crisis effects everyone from the NHS workforce to local business.

"We cannot afford to stand idly by; immediate intervention is needed to support families, struggling childcare providers and ultimately keep parents in jobs they’ve worked hard for.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.