Parents face childcare shortage as only half of nurseries have places for under twos - and costs are rising

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Families are struggling to find care for their children and face ‘eye watering bills’

Families across England are struggling to find childcare places and are facing higher prices, a major study has revealed.

A nationwide survey found that only half (50%) of local authorities in England have reported sufficient childcare places for children under the age of two, compared to 57% in 2022.

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Coram Family and Childcare’s annual survey also found the average price of a part-time childcare place (25 hours) a week for a child aged under two in a nursery now costs £148.63 across Britain – and is even higher in England at £150.89.

The charity claims that the high costs are “freezing parents out of work” and gaps in availability are “leaving disadvantaged children at risk of missing out”. It said that fewer than one in five (18%) local authorities in England report having enough childcare places for disabled children, down from 21% last year.

Families are struggling to find care for their children and face ‘eye watering bills’ (Photo: Adobe)Families are struggling to find care for their children and face ‘eye watering bills’ (Photo: Adobe)
Families are struggling to find care for their children and face ‘eye watering bills’ (Photo: Adobe) | PoppyPix - stock.adobe.com

The report is based on surveys from local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales that were returned to the charity between November 2022 and February 2023. Overall, 191 local authorities returned data.

The survey also reveals that the number of local authorities in England that report having enough places for the universal 15 hours a week free childcare entitlement for three and four-year-olds has dropped to 73%, down from 79% in 2022. The report said the drop in sufficiency of early education entitlements is “especially concerning” and said access to quality care is “vital”.

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It says: “Early education holds the potential to narrow the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their peers, and has since it was implemented – helping to achieve just that. At a time when this gap is widening, it is vital that every child is able to access the high quality education and care that sets them up to learn at school and beyond.”

The charity is calling on the government to reform the childcare system ahead of next week’s Budget to ensure a place is guaranteed for every child who needs it and that parents only pay what they can afford.

Megan Jarvie, head of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “The need for reform of the childcare system is urgent. As well as eye watering bills, parents are facing widening gaps in availability of the childcare they need.

“As the Chancellor decides his budget, we urge him to recognise the value of investing in childcare – it is a wise investment, enabling parents to work and boosting the outcomes of young children.”

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A government spokesperson said: “The number of childcare places available to families in England has remained broadly stable since 2015 and standards remain high, with 96% of providers rated good or outstanding.

“We recognise that families and early years providers across the country are facing financial pressures, which is why we have spent more than £20 billion over the past five years to support families with the cost of childcare.

“This government has also doubled the entitlement for working parents of 3 and 4 year olds to 30 hours and introduced 15 free hours a week for disadvantaged two-year-olds.”

The charity’s report comes as the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has published new survey findings which show that 98.4% of nurseries in England say their funding rates do not cover delivery costs. The NDNA survey of 477 nurseries in England in January and February found that 83% of nurseries are expecting to make a loss or only break even.

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Purnima Tanuk, chief executive of NDNA, said: “We will see more childcare providers struggling to survive once all the cost increases come on board in April. The government must acknowledge the full extent of this crisis and begin to meaningfully support the early years sector before it’s too late.”

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