Soaring childcare costs in Northern Ireland are leaving more and more parents out of work and in poverty, a new survey has indicated.
Low income families are turning down jobs or considering leaving work because they can not afford to pay, according to new research by Save the Children and the Daycare Trust.
The survey found that many parents say they cannot afford not to work, but struggle to find the money to meet childcare bills. And even though many parents are cutting back on spending, almost a quarter have got into debt.
One mother told the Northern Ireland survey: "Affordable childcare is so hard to come by. There would be no point in me working if I had to pay for private nursery or a child minder. There is not enough help for working parents."
Another said: "I have about £100 left for my own expenses after paying bills - that doesn't cover even our monthly food bill."
While parents in Britain spend almost a third of their incomes on childcare, the Northern Ireland the average spending figure is 45%. Survey findings suggested that parents living in severe poverty are struggling more than most to access childcare.
The report said the government's aim was to persuade more parents that work is the best route out of poverty. Effective childcare support was therefore essential to make work pay.
However, the report claimed the 10% reduction of the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit which came into effect in April and the proposals for Universal Credit were undermining the scheme. The cut had added up to £1,560 a year on to the childcare bill of low income families.
Fergus Cooper, Save the Children's Northern Ireland chief, said the Stormont executive should do more to increase childcare provision with a new and appropriately funded childcare strategy as part of the programme for government.
He added: "This needs to work across departments to tackle historical under provision and needs to be especially targeted and resourced to support families living in poverty to access training and employment and should be accessible across Northern Ireland."