Social Justice

'Utterly dire situation': Childcare costs surge to 'eye-watering' £158 per week

Coram Family and Childcare's new annual survey has revealed that families are facing extortionate childcare costs. The government has a plan to fix it with the expansion of free childcare, but there are too few nursery spaces to meet demand

childcare

The government is set to roll out free childcare to two-year-olds from working families. Image: Unsplash

Families face “eye-watering” childcare costs as the average part-time nursery space reaches £158 per week, a new survey has found.

That’s an increase of 7.4% on the previous year, according to the annual childcare survey by Coram Family and Childcare.

It comes as the government is set to roll out its expansion of free childcare. From April 2024, eligible working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access up to 15 hours of free childcare per week.

But experts fear that there are not enough nursery spaces to provide free childcare for families who are eligible.

Ellen Broomé, managing director of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “The new childcare support that is being rolled out from April has the potential to be a game-changer for parents up and down the country – many of whom have found themselves facing eye-watering childcare bills and sometimes even locked out of work because of childcare costs.

“Our findings – with higher costs and dramatic drops in availability of childcare places – are concerning at this crucial time, showing the scale of challenge and the very real risks around this policy not living up to parents’ expectations.

“Unless this policy is properly funded and supported, it could have the opposite effect, with families unable to access or afford the childcare they need and the most disadvantaged children set to miss out.”

The Big Issue has previously reported that early years settings face a “staffing crisis” and “years of sustained underfunding”. Almost a quarter (24%) believe they are likely to close over the next 12 months, according to research from the Early Years Alliance.

More than two thirds (63%) of early years providers are full. One provider told The Big Issue that people are starting to contact nurseries to get on waiting lists “before they are even pregnant”, and waiting lists stretch years into the future.

It means that people who are eligible for 15 hours of free childcare may not be able to access it.

According to Coram Family and Childcare’s new survey, only 45% of local authorities in England believe they have sufficient provision for two-year-olds entitled to free childcare. That’s down by 18% on the previous year.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: “While nurseries, pre-schools and childminders do their best to provide high-quality, affordable early education and care, years of neglect have left the sector in an utterly dire situation – and without the robust infrastructure needed to roll out the upcoming expansion.

“To say time is running out is an understatement. It is critical that government wakes up the reality of the situation and takes the urgent action needed to support early years providers – namely, adequate funding and a clear workforce strategy that focuses on retention as well as recruitment. Ministers chose to make a big promise to families. It’s up to them to ensure the sector is able to deliver on it.”



In his Spring Statement, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced increased funding for childcare providers in England delivering the 15 and 30 hours free childcare. It represents an estimated additional £500m of investment over two years.

Broomé said: “The recent additional funding from the chancellor was welcome but won’t address the long-term systemic challenges of high childcare costs for parents, the workforce recruitment and retention crisis or the lack of availability of places for children with SEND.”

Just 6% of councils report sufficient childcare for children with disabilities, a decrease of 12% on 2023.

There has also been a drop in the availability of childcare places for parents working atypical hours (down by 7%) and families in rural areas (down by 14%).

Broomé added: “Over the next few months, we need the government to work closely with local authorities and childcare providers to make sure they are supported to deliver for families.

“And in this election year, we are calling on all political parties to commit to reforming our childcare system to make sure all children can access high quality early years education and all parents can make meaningful choices about work and care.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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