Childcare now top expense for families

Nurseries » As demand for toddlers' places at nurseries outstrips supply, parents are having to find £6,000 a year
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The Independent Online

The cost of childcare in Britain has reached record levels, making nurseries more expensive than private schools.

The cost of childcare in Britain has reached record levels, making nurseries more expensive than private schools.

Parents now pay on average more than £6,200 a year ­ £120 a week ­ to send a child under two to nursery, a 10 per cent rise in the past 12 months, a report published last week reveals.

Londoners pay even more. A full-time nursery place in the capital costs more than £7,500. Sending children to a private school is actually now cheaper; that costs, on average, just over £6,000.

The new figures, contained in the Daycare Trust's annual survey of childcare charges, show that spending on childcare is now by far the biggest single expense for a family. Households spend on average £64 a week on housing, £62 on food and non-alcoholic drinks, and £22 on clothing.

The cost of a nursery place is rising at a rate that is far outstripping inflation because demand for places is exceeding supply, says the survey. The report points to the sacrifices parents now have to make to send their children to nursery school. Many mothers are obliged to work part-time or even give up their jobs altogether because they can no longer afford to pay for a nursery place.

A further report, to be published later this month by the trust, will highlight the link between child poverty ­ Britain has one of the worst levels in Europe ­ and the cost of UK childcare, which is the highest in Europe.

It acknowledges the funding the Government has put in place since 1997 to bring down the cost of childcare but says it needs to do much more if childcare is to be affordable by all parents. The Government is committed to eradicating child poverty within 20 years.

Stephen Burke, the trust's director, said: "Our latest survey shows why more and more families can't afford childcare. As a result, children are missing out on learning and development opportunitiesand many parents are getting trapped in a low pay, no pay cycle.

"Childcare and out-of-school services are a public good with great benefits for society as well as families. Childcare is a crucial part of the local community and needs much greater long-term government funding."

It costs one couple, Gerry and Adrian McNai, £250 a week to send their two children, Rachel,aged two, and Georgina, three, to full-time nursery in north-west London.

A large proportion of Mrs McNair's £20,000 salary as a secretary, and Mr McNair's income as a carpenter, is spent on childcare. The McNairs tried to claim a government subsidy by applying for the Working Families Tax Credit, but were turned down. "Childcare is by far our biggest single outgoing," said Mrs McNair. "To be entitled to any kind of government subsidy I would have to give up work ­ or else I would have to throw my husband out."

Another parent, Janine Thomas, would have to give up her part-time job as an information officer ­ earning £75 for a 12-hour week ­ to qualify for the Working Families Tax Credit. Her husband Andrew works in a factory. They pay £20 a week to give their daughter Molly, two, childcare over four hours a week. The remainder of the time that Mrs Thomas works, Molly is looked after by her grandmother. "I would love to have a full-time job but I just can't afford it," said Mrs Thomas, "If I didn't have my mum looking after the kids I could not work."

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