The lack of affordable childcare needs to be addressed politically
Northern Ireland is unique within the context of the UK because childcare simply did not feature highly on the political agenda for over a decade.
The first childcare strategy was introduced in 1999, however while the other three regions reviewed and updated their childcare strategies, ours became outdated and obsolete.
It was not until 2011 that a commitment to publish and implement a new childcare strategy was given.
The effects of the lack of political attention on childcare provision are clear to be seen. Childcare in Northern Ireland is difficult to source, typically inflexible and expensive.
Over half of the parents in last year's Childcare Cost survey said that affordable childcare was difficult to access. With the average childcare place amounting to an annual fee of almost £16,500 for two children, it is not surprising that 63% of parents here struggle with their childcare costs.
There is financial support available with the cost of childcare through tax credits and childcare vouchers, yet many families do not avail of the help they are entitled to.
Northern Ireland has a much lower uptake of financial support than the rest of the UK; this is reflective of the lack of a Government-funded family information service.
The lack of affordable childcare impacts negatively on parental employment, puts strain on the wider family circle and places many families under financial pressure.
Childcare is therefore a social and economic issue which needs to be addressed at a political level.
Employers For Childcare Charitable Group has been carrying out an annual Childcare Cost Survey for Northern Ireland since 2010. Our research aims to demonstrate the impact high childcare costs have on families and provide us with evidence to lobby our local politicians to address childcare as a matter of urgency.
Last year the Executive published Bright Start, a childcare framework and precursor to a childcare strategy. Amongst other actions, Bright Start will work on providing better information for parents, particularly on financial support.
We hope that the Executive's commitment to childcare will reap positive changes and drive down the cost of childcare for working families.
Marie Marin is CEO of the Employers for Childcare Charitable Group