Rising costs present major challenge for families and childcare providers

Employers For Childcare is warning that childcare fees are set to rise for many parents as a result of spiralling costs for childcare providers, adding to the significant pressures on already hard-pressed families. This could lead to parents being priced out of affording the childcare they need to work, at a time when many employers are already struggling to find and retain staff. While the strain on providers could mean some are at risk of going out of business, making it even more difficult for families to access the childcare they need.

Employers For Childcare’s most recent Northern Ireland Childcare Survey found that a third of childcare providers anticipated having to increase their fees in 2022, rising to over two thirds of day nurseries, which account for 37% of childcare places. In recent weeks, the charity has been contacted by worried parents, who have received notification of a fee increase, as well as by childcare providers, who are conscious of the impact rising fees will have on hard-pressed families and are exploring ways to support parents at this difficult time.

The cost of operating a childcare setting has never been higher. Childcare providers, like households, are facing rising costs for essentials particularly energy for heating, fuel and electricity. These costs are set to rise further when the increase to National Insurance, and the National Living Wage, take effect in April, contributing to higher salary costs. Even prior to this, 7 out of 10 providers reported they were either just breaking even or making a loss.

Aoife Hamilton, Head of Charity Services at Employers For Childcare comments: “We know that already over a quarter of parents were struggling to meet the cost of their childcare. Childcare providers are aware of the difficulties facing families and do not want to increase their fees, but typically, this is their only source of income, so many will simply have no other option. This is not good enough for a critical sector that will underpin our economic and societal recovery from the pandemic and that helps to give children and young people the best start in life. This is why we need to see Government investment, both in the long-term, through a fully-costed and resourced Childcare Strategy, but also in the short-term. While over £40 million in Covid-related funding has been allocated to the sector, this is set to finish at the end of March so urgent intervention is needed to support parents and childcare providers through this most challenging time.

“We have been warning about this impending crisis for some time. Investment in childcare was long-overdue even prior to Covid-19, but the pandemic has made the situation much worse and has further delayed the new Childcare Strategy, which we have now learned won’t be consulted on this year as previously indicated by the Education Minister. Ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections we are urging all political parties to make childcare a priority – for the parents who rely on it, for the providers who deliver it, for the employers whose staff depend on it, and for the children who benefit so greatly from it. Childcare is a key part of our economic infrastructure that matters to all of us, whether we have children or not. So we are asking everyone to make sure those who are asking for their vote on 5 May are giving this issue the priority it so urgently needs”.

Employers For Childcare’s Family Benefits Advice Service can help parents find out what financial support is available to their family. Most parents are entitled to help to pay for childcare, though many don’t realise it, particularly if they are working. Call Freephone 0800 028 3008 for free, impartial and confidential advice.

Employers For Childcare has published its Policy Manifesto ahead of the Northern Ireland Assembly election, available online here.