Campaigners unite in urging Stormont politicians to take action over childcare
A community coalition on childcare is being established to push for an end to the political stalemate in Northern Ireland.
Campaigners want more support for high-quality yet affordable and accessible provision. Last year, a full-time childcare place cost on average £168 per week.
The Childcare for All coalition said: "With ongoing political instability, the roll-out of welfare reform and changes to the financial landscape of support with childcare costs, it is critical that childcare is an issue that is given high priority by the Executive."
It said that with ministers not sitting, the lack of progress had frustrated all who had been trying to push for change. A finalised childcare strategy has not been published by the Stormont Executive. The coalition added: "Unless a substantive budget is attached to the childcare strategy, its ambitious objectives will prove unachievable."
It said in 2016 a third of parents reported their childcare bill was higher than their mortgage or rent payments. A total of 59% of parents said there was insufficient childcare in their area, with 47% reporting difficulties in accessing flexible childcare.
The coalition said: "Research shows that investing early saves the public purse in later years.
"Early investment in childcare in particular has significant long-term benefits for society, based on children's increased school and career achievement, and reduced costs in the health and criminal justice systems. Childcare is key to this investment, yet is often omitted as a tool in giving children and young people the best start in life."
The campaign is due to be officially launched in the autumn.
The coalition said: "It will allow us to bring together the concerns, as well as the knowledge base and experience, of different organisations from across the sectors and speak with one voice calling for investment in childcare and a robust, costed strategy that will ultimately lead to universal childcare that is sustainable, employs a professional well-paid workforce and provides quality early years care and education."