Full-Time Childcare Now More Than £10,000 A Year In NI

The average cost of a full-time childcare place in Northern Ireland is now more than £10,000 a year, an increase of 14% since 2021, according to a new report from Employers For Childcare (EFC).

The latest Northern Ireland Childcare Survey, published by EFC, shows that a quarter of families are now paying more than £1,000 a month for their childcare, with some paying up to £3,000. Childcare providers are also struggling to make ends meet, with 84% reporting they are just breaking even or making a loss.

Aoife Hamilton, from Employers For Childcare, which has been tracking the affordability and provision of childcare through the Northern Ireland Childcare Survey since 2010, commented: "This is our first comprehensive survey of parents and the childcare sector post-Covid. It shows that what was already a challenging situation is getting much, much worse, both for parents and childcare providers. Over half of families told us they are using means other than their income, such as credit cards and savings, to pay for childcare and for 4 in 10 families, their childcare bill is their largest monthly outgoing, greater than their mortgage or rent.

"This is prompting families to consider whether both parents can actually afford to work, when factoring in the cost of the childcare they need. For many, the sums just don't add up – 88% of parents told us they have had to change their work arrangements due to the cost of childcare – including reducing their hours and, in some cases, leaving work altogether. This is a major issue for our entire economy and society. Parents with dependent children make up more than 40% of our workforce and are employed across all sectors. So whether you are a parent or not, all of us rely on working parents in every aspect of our lives – working parents are nurses, teachers, bus drivers, hairdressers, IT specialists and work colleagues."

While the survey shows parents struggling to afford the childcare they need to work, it also reflects the challenges childcare providers face due to rising costs. Philip Dalgity, Chair of Northern Ireland Day Care Owners commented: "Given the latest National Living Wage increase to £11.44, many providers I've spoken with will have no choice but to look at a fee increase in April 2024, to cover this additional cost. Given that Northern Ireland has the lowest disposable income in the UK, and the least financial help for childcare, I fear that this will be a step too far for many parents and providers."

Commenting further on the survey findings, Aoife adds: "Another worrying finding emerging from this survey is the use of unregistered childminders, especially in more rural areas. 15% of parents told us they are using an unregistered childminder for some or all of their childcare. The use of these unregulated and uninsured childminders is potentially putting children at risk, as well as disadvantaging registered providers, who go through rigorous inspection processes. All because parents cannot find or afford the high quality childcare they need."

Calling for greater Government support towards the cost of childcare, Aoife said: "Parents here look at the support available in other parts of the UK and Ireland and want to know, quite rightly, why they and their children are being left behind. We need to see our Executive back up and running and for the progression of the new Early Learning and Childcare Strategy to be a day 1 priority. Most importantly, in developing this new Strategy, we must be creative and ambitious and design a bespoke solution that meets the needs of families and the childcare sector in Northern Ireland, learning from the experiences elsewhere. There is a real opportunity to create a world-class childcare infrastructure, that enables parents to work, aids the wider economy and society and supports our children's development. Rather than a cost this must be seen as an investment – the benefits of which will be felt for generations to come."

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