Childcare costs at highest in County Armagh

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Childcare costs in County Armagh are the highest in the province, according to latest figures.

The average cost of a full-time childcare place in Co. Armagh is £176 per week, an increase of £7 compared to the previous years’ findings according to Employers For Childcare’s latest Childcare Cost Survey.

This report is the Charity’s 8th Annual Childcare Cost Survey which analyses the scale and impact of childcare costs.

The report captures the views and experiences of 4,800 parents across Northern Ireland and highlights how they believe access to childcare is acting as a barrier to work. The average full-time private childcare place in Northern Ireland is £169 per week.

For many parents, covering the cost of childcare is their single biggest worry.

In almost a third (30%) of households, the childcare bill is more than the mortgage or rent.

Revealing the struggle families go through to meet their monthly childcare bill, 46% of parents report they have had to go without or cut back in order to meet childcare costs.

For some this means cutting back on heating their homes, going without quality, fresh food, and skipping meals to meet their monthly childcare bill. Worryingly, 33% of parents, up from 25% last year, have used means such as savings, credit cards, loans or gifts from family and friends, and even payday loans to cover the cost.

Aoife Hamilton, Policy and Information Manager at Employers For Childcare, said: “This year more than other years, we see parents identifying themselves as experiencing in-work poverty. For others, the figures simply don’t add up and they have left, or plan to leave, the workforce”.

Factors other than cost that working parents struggle with include: lack of out of school and wraparound services; lack of provision in rural areas; restricted and inflexible opening hours; and limited provision for children with specific needs. While Co. Armagh families typically require 45 hours of childcare per week, 52% of households’ report there is insufficient childcare provision in their area.

Despite this, the overwhelming majority (87%) of parents are positive about the quality of childcare provision. They recognise the valuable experience their children receive and the important role childcare staff play in their children’s lives.

Commenting on what parents are calling for to ease the burden of childcare costs, Aoife concluded: “There is an overwhelming cry from parents who perceive they are being penalised if they choose to go to work. They want childcare to be an enabler to work and are calling for the Government to provide financial help but more importantly, information on the support currently available.”

“Employers For Childcare is committed to making sure the voices of these parents are heard and are at the heart of legislation and policy development on childcare reform. Investment in childcare here is drifting even further behind that in other parts of the UK. It is more than two years since the consultation on a draft Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland closed, and we are no further forward. We will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure childcare is treated not as a side issue but as an economic and social priority so that children, parents, childcare providers and employers in Northern Ireland can benefit from affordable, accessible, quality childcare.”

Key findings:

• Overall cost of full-time day nursery place has increased by over £12 a month (£3 per week).

• A place at a holiday scheme has increased by £10 a week in a private setting and £13 in a community setting.

• The cost of full-time place at a private day nursery (£172 per week) has overtaken the cost of a full-time place at a registered childminder (£169 per week) for the first time since 2010.

• Counties Armagh and Derry/Londonderry have seen the highest spike in costs for full-time private childcare, up by £7 per week since last year.

• County Fermanagh continues to record the lowest cost for full-time private childcare at £140 per week.

• Parents in Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh report using the most childcare hours at 48 hours per week on average.

• 67% of households report using informal childcare for some or all of their childcare needs. 90% of these households access childcare provided by grandparents.

• 63% of households reported a change in working patterns for one or both parents. Where there was a change the key reason given by respondents was the cost of childcare (42% of these households) while just 16% of these households stated the change was due to personal preference.