Editor's Viewpoint: Northern Ireland parents deserve help with childcare
With the school holidays looming it should be a time of relaxation and fun for all the family. Instead, for many families it is a time of dread as they have to put their offspring into childcare provision at huge cost.
As our story today reveals, many families will face a bill of almost £1,200 for each child who is being looked after. That could be a crippling burden, especially for single parents, and it is little wonder that some resort to credit cards, savings or even payday loans to cover the cost.
Some families are fortunate in that relatives - grannies or granddads in the main - will take up some of the responsibility of looking after children during the school holidays, but with the disintegration of the traditional family unit that is very often not an option.
It might seem, given the figures in our story, that childcare providers are raking in a fortune, but the Employers for Childcare, which has launched its 10th annual Northern Ireland Childcare Survey, reports that some providers are leaving the sector because they, too, are finding it difficult to make ends meet due to increased costs.
Today's consumer-driven world, and the lower incomes earned in Northern Ireland compared to other regions of the UK, are factors which increase the pressure on both parents to go out to work.
It then becomes a delicate balancing act to see if either income actually increases the standard of living or merely covers childcare provision.
In the latter case there is a compelling argument for that parent to stay at home.
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But for those families where both parents need to work, the trick is to find ways of making childcare provision as economical as possible.
One solution is using relatives for a couple of days a week and putting the children into providers the rest of the time.
After-school clubs - although increasingly these are coming under pressure through lack of investment in education - are another economical way of helping look after children.
Charities or church groups may also make some provision. Childminders can sometimes be a more economical choice than large-scale providers.
But it seems inequitable that families in Northern Ireland are not treated in the same way as those in England who are given 30 hours of free childcare. It is something our politicians should be pressing for urgently.