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Sky-high childcare is pressuring parents to quit work

By Noel McAdam

Published 21/08/2015

Social worker Sharon McKeown with SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone
Social worker Sharon McKeown with SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone

Parents are being forced to give up work because of the high costs of childcare, a conference has heard.

Social worker Sharon McKeown revealed her childcare costs were higher than her salary, and that it was a "struggle" for her to stay in the job.

The SDLP, which organised the yesterday's gathering, has written to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers demanding she address the crisis.

The party insists it will make the issue a priority in expected new inter-party negotiations on welfare reform to revive the Stormont House Agreement.

A research paper presented at the conference detailed how the average full-time (50 hours) private childcare place in Northern Ireland was £162 per week.

The average place at a child-minder's cost £157 per week, and day-nursery place £155 (both under 50 hours), according to research by the Employers For Childcare charitable group.

"Action needs to be taken to help working families given that the average wage in Northern Ireland is not commensurate with the cost of childcare," the party told Mrs Villiers.

Northern Ireland has 89,000 parents using working tax credits, which are to be restricted as a result of measures announced in Chancellor George Osborne's emergency Budget.

Children's charity Barnardos pointed out a single parent working full-time on the minimum wage would be £1,200 worse off from April 2016, when the changes are introduced.

The SDLP paper said: "Choosing between paying childcare and staying at home is becoming worryingly common. The consequence of the situation is that a parent may be forced out of work, and highly skilled people are lost from the workplace.

"Women in particular face inequality - studies show that almost one in two women believe taking time off to have a baby was a key pinch point in their careers. Women who return to work after taking time out for childcare return to positions that earn as much as 30% less than those they left, (contributing) to the shortage of women advancing to corporate leadership roles."

Ms McKeown, who works in Ardboe in Co Tyrone, added: "Childcare is so expensive, people are being forced to give up work. It causes people to become deskilled in their careers and then it's more difficult to return to work once childcare is no longer an issue.

"I am in a great job but my childcare costs are higher than my salary every month. I'm trying to hold out to see if I can get the help I need to stay in work, but it's a struggle."

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