Northern Ireland Childcare Survey 2023

Northern Ireland Childcare Survey 2023

Employers For Childcare has published the findings of its 13th Northern Ireland Childcare Survey. The survey has been tracking the views and experiences of parents and childcare providers in Northern Ireland since 2010 and is the most comprehensive research produced into Northern Ireland’s childcare sector, and those who use it. The findings are widely used by elected representatives and policy-makers to inform their work in relation to childcare.

This year’s survey highlights, once again, the challenges faced by parents in finding and paying for the childcare they need, in the face of rising childcare costs, but also underlines the issues faced by childcare providers, as many of them struggle to continue to provide their services sustainably. With the cost of a full-time childcare place having increased by 14% since the last survey in 2021, parents are, on average spending £9,360 a year on childcare, rising to over £14,000 if they have a child under 5 and are using formal childcare only.

84% of childcare providers surveyed told us they are making a loss or just breaking even, giving the picture of a sector that is in crisis, as it awaits progress on the long-awaited and much overdue new Early Learning and Childcare Strategy.

Key findings:

  • The average cost of a full-time childcare place in Northern Ireland is £10,036 a year or £193 per week – this is an increase of 14% since 2021 and is more than the maximum costs supported through Tax-Free Childcare:
    • £11,908 a year or £229 per week for a day nursery
    • £9,776 a year or £188 per week for a childminder
  • 84% of childcare providers are making a loss or breaking even with 43% describing their financial situation as ‘struggling’ or ‘distressed’
  • 88% of parents have had to change their work arrangements due to the cost of childcare
  • For 41% of families, childcare is their largest monthly outgoing ahead of their mortgage or rent
  • 56% are using means other than their income to pay for childcare including savings, credit cards and loans
  • 15% of families report using an unregistered childminder for some or all of their childcare.
  • 88% of parents rate the quality of their childcare positively.

What parents told us…

“We have spent £200,000 in the past 12 years on childcare to enable us both to work in jobs that are contributing to society.”

“Some months, as a direct result of our childcare bill, we have to borrow money to buy food! This is not a sustainable way for anybody to live.”

“Childcare is the single biggest stress factor for me and my friends who have children. There is practically no financial support. It is causing a career crisis for women and having a poor impact on mental and financial health.”

What childcare providers told us…

“The price of everything has gone up – for utilities, fuel, food and learning and play resources. We are really struggling but if our prices go up we might lose children to other providers.”

“It is likely we will close in the next few months. The sector is in crisis. Experienced staff are leaving to find higher paid employment with less responsibility and I can’t afford to replace them.”

“Unregistered childminders are competing for children undercutting those of us who play by the rules. I don’t feel I can increase fees with people already struggling. After expenses and working a 50-55 hour week I earn the equivalent of minimum wage.”

Looking ahead

The findings of this research highlight the critical role of childcare as economic, educational and societal infrastructure. Yet they also reflect how a lack of investment and the continued absence of the new Early Learning and Childcare Strategy is failing the sector, failing parents, failing employers and – most importantly – failing children. While childcare can be the key to unlocking so much potential instead – as a result of this failure – it is increasingly being framed as a barrier. We have all the components for a world class childcare infrastructure – excellent people, dedicated providers and a generationally significant opportunity to learn from experiences elsewhere to target much needed investment. What is needed now is for plans and the promises to translate into progress on the ground. For that, we need to see an Executive in place addressing childcare as a day one priority.

This must be the last Northern Ireland Childcare Survey in which parents and childcare providers tell us that they cannot continue as things are. By the time we publish our next report in 2025, we must be benefiting from the much-needed and long-overdue investment that is so critically needed by this vital economic sector.

Download the full report and the Key Findings from this page.

If you have any questions about the report, contact us on 028 9267 8200 or email

We would like to thank the 2,750 parents and childcare providers who completed this important survey. The report highlights and reflects their views, attitudes and experiences.