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Northern Ireland families dreading childcare fees over long summer holiday

This week marks three years since the Assembly unanimously backed a motion calling for a radical approach to childcare provision (stock photo)
This week marks three years since the Assembly unanimously backed a motion calling for a radical approach to childcare provision (stock photo)
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

Hard-pressed Northern Ireland parents are struggling to meet the crippling cost of holiday childcare, a new report has found.

With schools out for summer on Friday next week, it has emerged that the price of a week's holiday childcare now costs £145 on average, meaning many families face a bill of almost £1,200 per child for July and August.

But the shocking figures, detailed by Employers for Childcare as it launches its 10th annual Northern Ireland Childcare Survey today, is only the tip of the iceberg for many families.

In cases where parents can't rely on support from relatives, the bill for two children in full-time nursery care can hit well above average, with one Belfast mum and dad forking out over £3,000 just for this summer.

In a more worrying development, Employers for Childcare is reporting that two in five households here are using savings, credit cards and even payday loans, rather than their income, to cover the cost of childcare.

This rises to 51% in lone-parent households, according to the charity, with one in 10 single parent homes also spending over half their income on childcare.

Aoife Hamilton, policy and information manager at Employers For Childcare, said securing suitable arrangements can be extremely difficult during holiday periods, with one in two families reporting a hike in costs.

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"Others have highlighted difficulties in accessing the provision they need, pointing to a lack of holiday and wraparound childcare," she said.

"Due to a shortfall in support for our vital childcare sector, the eight week school holiday - which should be about fun and enjoyment - can add stress and strain for many parents."

Among the key findings is that the cost of a week's holiday childcare has gone up by £52 over the past decade, and now costs £145 on average - a major issue as the long school summer holidays start next week.

To make matters worse, childcare providers have admitted that they too are finding it difficult to make ends meet. "While our research finds that families are struggling to afford the childcare they need, we also found that childcare providers are experiencing increased costs and challenges to their own sustainability," Ms Hamilton said.

"Some report that they feel they have no option but to leave the sector as they struggle to break even.

"This is unacceptable and fails to reflect the value of our vital childcare infrastructure, and it's clear this is an issue which demands urgent attention," she added.

Ms Hamilton called for "a fundamental overhaul of the system to ensure a high quality, sustainable childcare infrastructure that is affordable for parents to access, and for providers to deliver".

She added: "In the context of the current talks, our elected representatives must prioritise investment in childcare underpinned by a fully costed childcare strategy which is supported by legislation."

This week marks three years since the Assembly unanimously backed a motion calling for a radical approach to childcare provision.

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said that addressing childcare costs by offering 30 hours of free universal provision would transform our economy, creating new jobs and providing parents with the opportunity to return to work.

"The 2019 Northern Ireland Childcare Costs Survey shows that childcare remains the highest monthly bill for working families after mortgage or rent payments," Ms Mallon said.

"Worryingly, the survey also revealed that 41% of parents had to use savings, loans or credit cards to pay for the cost of childcare. We should not be forcing people into debt to care for their children. In 2019, people shouldn't have to choose between a fulfilling career and caring for their child. Enhancing provision by bringing it to the level currently provided in England would allow parents to do both."

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