Childcare costs 'a major challenge'

It reveals that almost two fifths of parents say that the affordability of childcare in their local area is “poor”.

The Ipsos Mori survey, funded by the Department for Education, questioned 6,393 parents in England with children aged under 15 between November 2012 and June 2013, for their views on childcare.

The findings show that on average, families are paying out around £54 a week on nurseries, babysitters, childminders and after-school care, although the report says that this reflects the large sums of money that a minority of families spend on childcare.

It added that the amount is a “significant increase” compared to the last survey in 2011, when parents were paying an average of £47 a week.

But the report suggested that this could be because families have used more hours of childcare.

The most expensive type of childcare was a nanny or au pair costing on average £202 a week, followed by a day nursery (£105 a week on average) and a nursery school (£86 on average).

The cheapest were breakfast clubs (£14 a week) and after-school activities (£22).

The poll found that 32% of parents rated the affordability of local childcare as very of fairly good, while 29% were unsure and 39% said it was very or fairly poor.

While almost half (49%) of those surveyed said they found it easy or very easy to meet their childcare costs, a substantial minority – 27% said it was difficult or very difficult.

The survey also reveals that the majority of parents (58%) said that the overall quality of childcare available to them locally was good, although 30% of the total number questioned said that there were not enough places.

Overall, 78% of all families in England with children aged 14 and under had used some form of childcare – including formal care such as nurseries and childminders and informal help such as relatives – during their last term-time week. This equates to nearly 4.2 million families, or just over six million children.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of the 4Children charity said: “This survey shows that childcare is a crucial part of life for most families in modern Britain and is essential in helping parents to work and care for their children. However, as this survey also shows, the cost and inflexible nature of childcare provision today remains a major challenge for too many families.

“Our own recent polling showed that around one-quarter of parents think having more affordable, flexible or accessible childcare would make the most real positive difference to their family life. That’s why parents are looking to all political parties to provide a guarantee for childcare that is affordable and high quality.”

Shadow childcare minister Lucy Powell said: “These figures underline the strain that David Cameron’s childcare crunch is having on family life. We’ve a cost-of-living crisis with families struggling with soaring childcare costs – up 30% under the Tories – and a squeeze on places, meanwhile there are hundreds of fewer Sure Start Centres thanks to David Cameron.

“Labour would extend free early education for three and four year olds with parents in work from 15 to 25 hours, worth £1500 per child. We would also tackle availability of before and after school childcare by introducing a primary childcare guarantee to help parents.”

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey), said: “This report provides yet more evidence that overall childcare cost and accessibility remain a significant challenge for many families. Whilst the data on hourly rates indicates a reduction in cost, we know from other research that the overall, real costs of childcare are increasing. Our members are also telling us that many families are choosing to reduce their total childcare hours in response to increased costs.

“So, whilst it is encouraging to see figures showing an increase in uptake of formal childcare for children from deprived areas, the report also highlights that many parents still feel that finding accessible childcare in their local area is challenging and that cost remains a significant barrier to many wishing to returning to work or study.

The survey indicates that families may be paying out more in childcare costs because more parents are going to back to work and there are more children in families.

It says that parents were paying an average of £4.95 per hour for a nursery in 2012/13, compared with £5.25 the year before.

And a childminder cost an average of £5.21 an hour, compared with £5.83 in 2011/12.

The number of families in poor areas using formal types of childcare rose from 38% to 44%, while the number of families in the richest areas using this form of care fell from 67% to 60%.

Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss said: “It’s great to see that parents are reporting lower costs for the most popular forms of childcare, nurseries and childminders.

“It’s also good to see that more parents on low incomes have access to after- school clubs and other childcare. We know that pre- and after-school provision can bring educational benefits and good quality early education can give children the best start in life.

“We also want to see greater choice and flexibility for parents which is why it’s encouraging that more parents are finding childcare to suit their work commitments.

“However, we are not complacent. That’s why we are encouraging school nurseries to open from 8-6 and offer more flexible hours for part-time workers. It’s also why we are establishing Childminder Agencies to increase the number of childminders and cutting red tape for nurseries to enable good ones to expand.”

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Childcare costs 'a major challenge'
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