Childcare workers have suffered a real terms pay cut of 5 per cent in recent years, in "stark contrast" to wage rises of 2.5 per cent among women employees generally, according to a new report.
Research suggested that average hourly pay in the sector was £8.20 last year, around 40 per cent less than the average female worker.
Almost half of childcare workers claim state benefits or tax credits, more than in occupations such as hairdressers and beauticians, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) said.
"There is overwhelming evidence that high quality childcare plays a vital role in the outcomes of a child's life, with a skilled, qualified workforce absolutely central to delivering this," said Dr Sara Bonetti of the EPI. "This report should therefore concern parents who use childcare services, and the government, which regards high quality early years education as crucial to social mobility.
"We find that the childcare workforce is poorly qualified, and faces a number of recruitment problems, with many workers experiencing serious financial hardship. Childcare workers are now paid similarly to hairdressers and beauticians, with pay falling since 2013."
Josh Hillman of the Nuffield Foundation, which supported the research, said: "This new research shows that the incentives to stay in the childcare sector are low, with a decline in real term wages of 5 per cent since 2013. Despite government investment in early years education, childcare workers continue to face financial insecurity.
"The research also shows early years staff are offered few opportunities to improve their qualifications, which is particularly worrying given both the importance of the quality of provision and concerns over recruitment in the childcare sector."
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: "The vast majority of early years providers - 95 per cent - are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, but there is always more to do. That's why we are improving the training and professional development available to the early years workforce, including through our £20 million programme targeted at those working in more deprived areas."
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