Parents skipping meals and taking out loans to pay for rising cost of childcare
Northern Ireland parents of young children in Northern Ireland are now spending almost 40% of their household income on childcare.
The average price of a full-time nursery place for one child is running at £168 per week.
Covering the prohibitive costs is the single biggest worry for parents here and has led to families cutting back on heating, skipping meals and even taking out high interest loans to make ends meet.
New research by the Employers For Childcare charity further reveals that, in almost a third of Northern Ireland households, the monthly childcare bill is bigger than mortgage or rent demands.
One Finaghy mum told the Belfast Telegraph that her take-home pay as a social worker is less than the combined total cost of paying for breakfast club and private nursery for her three children.
Meanwhile, a dad-of-two from Londonderry who works for the council has told how he has racked up £10,000 worth of debt on his credit card because the cost of paying childminders is double the mortgage.
The eighth annual Childcare Cost Survey also revealed that factors such as restrictive and inflexible opening hours and a lack of out-of-school services are a barrier to people going to work.
Aoife Hamilton from Employers for Childcare said parents often put childcare payments ahead of groceries or other bills, with many paying interest only on credit cards, as well as being unable to save for the future.
"This year, more than other years, we see parents identifying themselves as experiencing in-work poverty," she said.
"For others, the figures simply don't add up and they have left, or plan to leave, the workforce."
Ms Hamilton revealed many parents said the cost, and lack of childcare provision, has been detrimental to family well-being.
"Parents are waiting until their first child is in school before having another baby in order to minimise costs, or reducing their planned family size," she said. "There is an overwhelming cry from parents who perceive they are being penalised if they choose to go to work.
"They want childcare to be an enabler to work, and are calling for the Government to provide financial help and information on the support currently available."
The key findings show:
- Overall cost of full-time day nursery place has increased by more than £12 a month;
- A place at a holiday scheme has increased by £10 a week in a private setting and £13 in a community setting;
- The cost of a full-time place at a private day nursery (£172 a week) has overtaken the cost of a full-time place at a registered childminder (£169 per week) for the first time since 2010;
- Counties Armagh and Londonderry have seen the highest spike in costs for full-time private childcare, up £7 per week since last year;
- Co Fermanagh continues to record the lowest cost for full-time private childcare at £140 per week;
- Parents in counties Tyrone and Fermanagh report using the most childcare hours, at 48 hours per week on average;
- 67% of households use informal childcare for some/all of their childcare needs, and 90% of these households access childcare provided by grandparents;
- Some 63% of parents reported a change in working patterns for one/both parents.
Employers for Childcare has been conducting the Northern Ireland Childcare Cost Survey since 2010 - the most extensive study of its kind here - to explore the cost and how this impacts on local parents.
Ms Hamilton said the organisation is committed to ensuring the voices of parents are heard and at the heart of legislation and policy development on childcare reform.
"Investment in childcare here is drifting even further behind that in other parts of the UK," she said. "It's more than two years since the consultation on a draft Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland closed, and we're no further forward.
"We will continue to ensure childcare is treated as an economic and social priority so that children, parents, childcare provides and employers here can benefit from affordable, accessible, quality childcare."
‘We don’t have money for a sofa’
Council health and safety manager Jayson McIntyre (44) and wife Leigh (37), a nurse practitioner, have an annual childcare bill of £13,200. Their combined salary is around £45,000.
The Londonderry couple have two children - P3 pupil Charlie (6) and Millie (2) - who are at childminders five days a week, half time and full time respectively.
Jayson said: "Until recently we paid £1,200 a month but that is down to £1,100 a month, twice our mortgage. After childcare Leigh works for £200 a month.
"We work so many hours and we're left with next to nothing. I'm getting myself into debt. There's £10,000 outstanding on my credit card as it is. The extra costs all add up. When my wife was on maternity leave for example and not getting paid, we had to live on one wage, which was difficult. When we've gone on holiday - which we both believe we deserve because we work so hard all year round - I've put it on the credit card, otherwise we couldn't afford it.
"We need a new sofa but don't have the money and it is a worry if you get an unexpected bill. We pay insurance on all our electricals so that we're covered, which came in handy when our cooker recently broke down, as we wouldn't have had the money to buy a new one.
"We don't socialise. We maybe go for a meal if it's someone's birthday, but that's it. It can be soul-destroying.
"Working parents need tax breaks from the government."
'Kids have never been on holiday'
Finaghy couple Denise Quinn (36), a social worker, and IT worker husband John (40) have three children - Marley (5), Aria (4) and Albi (2).
They take home a combined salary of around £42,000 and spend £18,240 a year on childcare.
Denise said: "Marley, who's in P2 and Aria, who's in P1, go to breakfast club at school and then nursery three days a week, while Albi is in full-time daycare for three days.
"My parents help out with childminding and I've officially cut back to 32 hours per week, although I do more than that most weeks as well as a lot of work at home. I chose to work for the good of my mental health but my career progression has been affected because there are promotions I can't go for due to my childcare commitments.
"Our monthly childcare bill (£1,550) is more than my salary and we've no disposable income. The kids have never been on holiday as we can't afford it. My mum and dad help with oil and other bills, we don't buy clothes for ourselves and we have no social life.
"It's a total panic if one of the children is sick, and exceptional school closures, like snow, are very stressful.
"We previously used childcare vouchers (£243 per month each) but recently switched and have had nothing but problems with payments going through.
"The government needs to make the prohibitive cost of childcare a priority."