Childcare costs continue to soar

Small child

Parents in England are on average forking out £4,576 a year on childcare costs for children aged under two, new research has revealed.

Meanwhile, the cost of a nursery place for a child aged over two has soared by 5.1% - almost double the rate inflation. National charity, the Daycare Trust, says politicians must set out their childcare agendas, or risk these costs becoming unaffordable for parents.

It’s latest Childcare Costs Survey shows anaverage annual cost  £4,576 for English parents, £4,368 for Scottish parents and £4,056 for Welsh parents for 25 hours of nursery care per week for a child under two.

For part-time workers, this is equal to more than half their average earnings, with 25 hours of nursery care costing £88, compared to average part-time earnings of £153 per week.

Parents in London face the highest costs. Daycare Trust found they face paying up to £11,050 per year for 25 hours childcare per week.

"Over the last year, families across the UK have been hit hard by the impact of the recession, with parents facing the strain of losing jobs, having their hours cut back or facing pay cuts - all of which is compounded further by childcare costs shooting up,” says Alison Garnham, chief executive of Daycare Trust.

Daycare Trust wants to see the maximum proportion of childcare costs the poorest parents can claim through tax credits to be increased from 80% to 100%.

Housing charity Shelter recently warned that the childcare crisis is being heightened by a housing shortage.

Kay Boycott, director of policy and campaigns at Shelter, says 1.5 million grandparents who would be willing to help take care of their grandchildren are unable to because their own children can't afford to live close by.

"We all know how valuable it can be to have your family close by, but these figures show the shocking impact that spiralling housing costs are having on families,” she adds. "Many families desperately need the support and care of relatives but the current housing crisis is making it impossible for family members to support each other in the way they want to."

Part-time workers

Meanwhile, the government has outlined plans to improve part-time working conditions for nearly six million women.

Vera Baird, solicitor general and lead minister for the Equality Bill, says flexible working should become the norm: “This is important for women, who still have the majority of caring responsibilities at home, but need and want to work. It is also good for men, who share in caring, and for businesses that will benefit more fully from a wider pool of talent.”

Around 42% of working women have part-time hours – more than ever before.

However, there are concerns that more than half of all women in part-time employment are working below their potential, and a shortage of suitable opportunities means that women are crowded into a narrow range of lower paid part-time jobs. 

Pay is also an issue. While the overall pay gap between men and women is 22%, this increased to 36.5% for women working part-time.

Angela Eagle, work and pensions minister, says: "It is important for women to be able to balance work and family life.”

The government have published several proposals to tackle the problem, including: challenging gender stereotyping in education; investigating the barriers to sustainability in the childcare sector; and stimulating the supply of quality part-time work.