Families in Northern Ireland pay £16,000 a year on childcare.
The findings from the recent survey results from Employers For Childcare Charitable Group’s Childcare Costs Survey paint a challenging picture for families within the region, with the high cost of childcare impacting on family budgets and forcing many parents into reducing their working hours or leaving the work place altogether.
With costs amounting to just over £16,000 for a household with two children, the average family here allocating 90% of their salary towards childcare.
Nearly 2,500 parents had participated in the survey, with just under half stating that the cost of childcare has influenced the number of hours they work.
Marie Marin, chief executive officer with Employers For Childcare Charitable Group said: “We have long argued that childcare is a long standing barrier to employment, with many parents struggling to meet their childcare costs.”
Shirley McLaughlin a parent who completed the survey and spoke at the launch added: “We had and continue to have difficulty balancing family and work life, childcare costs are expensive. I want to work and contribute to our economy, however we struggle, and I can understand why so many parents reduce their hours or give up work completely I would like to see our government do more to support working parents.”
At a time when the government is trying to encourage more people back into the workplace, the annual childcare bill for many parents across the region raises an important and challenging question: Does it pay to work?
We asked readers on our Facebook page what their childcare costs were at www.facebook.com/ni4kids and we got lots of response from childcare providers and parents.
Andrea O said: “I’m a nanny and I earn £18,000 per year but I work 11 hour days, five days a week for that. I take my baby to work cos (sic) I couldn't afford childcare for my lo as I'm away over 12 hours a day.”
Lorraine Rooney added: “My childcare for one child is just under 10k per year but unfortunately I need to work! I'm lucky enough to get some help through tax credits. But it’s still a major chunk out of my salary every month.”
Parents also praised their childcare providers and agreed they are worth the money.
Gary T commented: “Our childcare provider has been beyond flexible as our son has moved through the years. They have acknowledged our loyalty to them by waiving retainer charges for the periods he may not necessarily attend for a few days due to afterschool clubs etc. I consider the cost reflective of the service they provide and therefore a necessary evil given the flexibility they afford us.”
Amanda L added: “I'm a single parent who works full-time, my daughter goes to a private nursery which costs £37 a day and it is worth every penny. I couldn't afford it though without the help of Tax Credits.”
But for other parents, the decision has been made to leave work or reduce hours to part-time to be with their children and because it made financial sense.
Grainne T said: “I left work as childcare was about 80% of my wages. It wasn't worth my while. My daughter was always picking up illness at crèche. She missed a lot of days but we still had to pay for her. I had to also stay off to look after her but I didn't get sick pay so it was actually making us worse off. We weren't entitled to tax credit as my husbands wage took us over the threshold. Love being a stay at home mummy. But will study from home to keep up my skills.”
Lyn M added: “I work two mornings and two evenings. It is not my dream job but I am willing to make that sacrifice for my children. My workplace is 10 minutes away, enabling me to see the girls off to school and I am here to help with homework on their return. I wouldn't have it any other way.”
Laura H had a stronger view, having worked in a nursery herself saying “many nurseries are in it for the money.”
“It's a no-win situation really, you work full-time and need your child(ren) minded, and most if not all your earnings are used to pay for childcare costs.
“Their (sic) is far too much pressure on today's mums to get back into work as quickly as possible after having children. Depending on your attitude to work I believe more emphasis should be placed on praising mums or dads for staying at home and raising their children until school-age.
“Childcare has become another commodity for a lot of parents, I worked in a nursery for eight months, with my daughter also attending, and at the end of the month my wages were literally pocket money. I seen first hand how many parents, I believe, struggle with the dilemma that they have to pay for childcare (in many places) even if their child is sick, during Christmas, Easter and summer holidays, just to hold the place open. Many nurseries are in it for the money, and the children are just £ signs!”
Diane M described her childcare costs as “unreal.”
“I have a discount with my childminder but still it's is five hundred plus a month plus the fee granny charges for her two days and although my son has a free place at pre- school, I m still paying a fee to cover snack and to get to work on time I have to use the breakfast club. All in all, my monthly wages are obliterated by childcare costs for two little ones. And my childminder won't accept vouchers anymore.”
In response to the different comments from other users Clare W said: “I am a childminder and I do all I can to help my parents reduce their cost. However, I would like to point out the childminders usually work longer hours than parents, I work 12 hours+ most days of the week. I would also like to point out that we have overheads, like Ofsted registrations, insurance, car costs, wear and tear of our homes, cost for heating etc at this is used all day during the winter months.
“Also when I am working, I am not pulling in the min wage even when caring for two children! I understand childcare cost gripes and I feel sorry for people who pay these out. But please bear in mind we are also trying to make a living as well as developing your little ones.”
NICMA provided the case of Kelly Molloy, 32, a childminder in the Oldpark Road area of north Belfast. She has two children of her own, and looks after four other children.
She explained: “I used to work in a building society and decided on childminding as a career change. I’ve found it really rewarding, but I wasn’t prepared for all the costs involved. For example, I knew I would have to pay for public liability insurance, but I didn’t realise my car and home contents insurance would also go up.
“One of the most expensive items for me is the weekly food shop. I order the food I use for my childminding business on the internet and use a comparison site to get the best supermarket price. But it still works out at about £85 a week – that’s about £20 more than this time last year. I like to feed the children healthy, home-made meals, so I do buy quite a lot of fresh produce; I’ll often make a pot of soup or stew for the children’s lunch the night before,” she said.
“I receive about £10,000 a year in tax credits to supplement my £3,500 profit. In our area, lots of childminders and working parents are on low incomes and rely on tax credits. We live in fear that the government will reduce them. That would push a lot of childminders and parents here out of work.
“I don’t want to sound as if I’m complaining though. I get huge enjoyment out of what I do and the money is only important to the extent that I have to earn enough to feed and clothe my own children,” Kelly said.
“I would still recommend a career as a childminder to anyone with the right skills and commitment. It’s really wonderful to be able to contribute to the development and lives of the children I look after, while also having the opportunity to spend as much time as possible with my own children.”
Kelly’s business – how it works out
Official working hours: 8am – 6pm, five days a week
Additional out-of-hours work (preparation, cleaning etc): one to one and a ½ hours daily
Hourly rate per child: £3.75 - £3.90
Annual turnover: £13,500
Annual business expenditure: £10,000
Annual profit (no tax due): £3,500
Tax credits: £10,000
Registered childminding is the most popular form of full-time childcare in Northern Ireland, accounting for 61% of full-time daycare places. Childcare costs aside, the number of registered childminders has fallen in recent years and many parents have difficulty finding childcare; a survey carried out for NICMA – the Childminding Association by Ipsos MORI found nearly a third (30%) of parents who had recently looked for childcare had found their search difficult, with 43% of those in rural areas encountering problems.
The Health Minister, Edwin Poots launched NICMA’s document 'The Way Forward for Childminding' at Parliament Buildings which proposes the creation of an additional 900 childminding places annually over the next four years.
Speaking at the launch Mr Poots said: “I welcome the publication of this report, which will provide an important contribution to the comprehensive and frank discussion needed about childcare and how it can be improved.
“Childcare is an extremely important issue for all families. Juggling work, education or training, while securing suitable childcare, is a potentially stressful challenge for all parents.”
NICMA’s director Bridget Nodder added: “The Northern Ireland Executive has committed £12 million towards childcare over the next four years.
“There are many problems which that funding can be used to tackle, including the need for more affordable and high quality childcare places.”
NICMA is proposing the introduction of a Childminder Start-up Programme which would provide new childminders with practical start-up assistance, mentoring and resources.
Another issue of particular concern to NICMA is the length of time it can take to register as a childminder.
NICMA’s own survey evidence shows it takes, on average, seven months for a would-be childminder to go through the registration process – more than double the official maximum period of three months.
“We know the Department of Health has been reviewing this issue,” said Ms Nodder, “and we are proposing measures which we believe could address the problem.
“We are concerned that undue delays in registration times can put off potential childminders and can also lead to childminders operating illegally, without going through the registration process, thus putting at potential risk the children they’re looking after.”
Mr Poots said that action was being taken by the Executive and by his own Department:
“The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is considering how the development of a childcare strategy can best be taken forward. My Department is fully engaged with OFMDFM in this process.“Action is also already being taken to improve inspection and registration processes, as well as to enhance the provision of information to parents.
“I commend NICMA for their ongoing work in assisting in the development of the childminding workforce and in helping to identify possible solutions for the difficulties in current childminding provision.”
CAPTION: Health Minister Edwin Poots with Harry Christie (2) and Lila Uprichard (3) at the launch of 'The Way Forward for Childminding' at Parliament Buildings. The report was produced by childcare charity, NICMA - the Childminding Association.