British parents are finding themselves locked out of work and struggling to make ends meet as rising childcare fees add to the cost of living crisis, according to a survey.
Childcare costs have gone up by 3.5% for three to four-year-olds over the last year, while parents are paying 2.5% more for under twos, the survey found. Meanwhile, childcare availability has declined, as the sector grapples with the continuing impact of the pandemic.
Less than 60% of councils say they have enough childcare places for children under two, down from 72% in 2021, while only 59% report having enough childcare available for parents working full-time, down from 68% last year, which is “limiting many parents’ ability to work”, the survey says.
The findings are detailed in the Coram Family and Childcare’s 21st annual childcare survey, based on information provided by local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales and published on Tuesday, the day before the chancellor is due to deliver his spring statement, which is expected to address the cost of living crisis.
The report also found the numbers accessing early years free childcare entitlements has dropped significantly, with 38% of local authorities reporting a decline in numbers accessing free hours for two-year-olds and 40% seeing a decrease in the uptake among three to four-year-olds.
The survey also highlights stark regional disparities in cost and childcare availability. Just 30% of councils in the east of England say they have enough childcare for under twos, compared with 100% for the north-east. Meanwhile, the cost of 25 hours of nursery childcare for under twos is 50% higher in inner London (£183.56) than in Yorkshire and Humberside (£122.17).
Only one in five (21%) local authorities reported they had enough childcare available for children with special educational needs and disabilities, a decrease from 25% in 2021.
Ellen Broomé, managing director of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “Many parents, up and down the country, will be locked out of work or struggle to make ends meet as childcare prices continue to go up and the availability of places goes down. And the more vulnerable children will miss out the most on this boost to their development and outcomes.
“High quality childcare is key social infrastructure, it helps parents work and narrows the gap between poorer children and their more affluent peers. With families’ bills skyrocketing, as the chancellor stands up to present his budget, we urge him to make sure that childcare and children’s life chances are at the very heart of his announcements.”
Bridget Phillipson, shadow education secretary, said: “It’s extraordinary that at a time when prices are spiralling, the average family is still spending far more on childcare than on their weekly food shop.
“High quality childcare in the early years and around school boosts children’s life chances, but this worrying decline in available childcare risks limiting parents’ ability to work, putting further pressure on household finances.”
The government said the number of childcare places offered by providers remained stable.
“The early years of a child’s life are the most crucial, which is why we have invested more than £3.5bn in each of the last three years to deliver the free childcare offers, including the 30 hours a week for working parents. We are also investing millions in family hubs, where families can access important support services,” a government spokesperson said.