Parents ‘facing double squeeze of expensive childcare and patchy availability’

Parents are facing a double squeeze of expensive childcare costs and patchy availability this summer, research has found.

Across Britain, typical costs are 5% higher than in 2019, according to charity Coram Family and Childcare, which looked at school holiday childcare provision for youngsters aged four to 14.

It found the average place at a holiday club now costs around £145 per week – more than double what parents pay for an after-school club during term time.

Parents face a “postcode lottery” in finding affordable childcare, the research found.

Prices in Scotland were found to be slightly lower than in Wales, with those in Scotland also being considerably less expensive than in England.

Families may also struggle to find the childcare they need, with only a third (33%) of English local authorities reporting enough holiday childcare available for parents in their area who work full-time, according to the report.

A third (33%) of local authorities across Britain also reported a decrease in the number of holiday childcare places available, potentially as a result of the pressures on the sector from the coronavirus pandemic.

This raises significant concerns about whether there will be enough childcare places if demand reverts to pre-pandemic levels in the coming months, the charity said.

The report also highlighted shortages in holiday childcare for disabled children, with only 16% of local authorities in England reporting that they had enough.

Other notable gaps in England included provision for older children aged 12 to 14, and youngsters living in rural areas, researchers found.

Megan Jarvie, head of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “As the country plans to rebuild from the pandemic, it is vital that children and young people are placed at the centre of this recovery.

“Holiday childcare will be crucial for giving children a safe and fun space to catch up on lost learning and connect with peers – but this year more than ever parents are likely to struggle to find the childcare they need to be able to keep working and for their children to have fun and stay safe.

“Rising costs and falling availability means that they are facing a double squeeze as they search for childcare they can afford that meets their needs.

“Without action to make sure there is affordable out-of-school childcare for every child who needs it, we are at risk of seeing parents – and mothers in particular – struggle to keep working.”

The Holiday Childcare Survey 2021 said that to fix problems in the system, governments should make sure there is enough year-round childcare for every working family that needs it, including school-age children.

Groups facing the biggest shortages should be prioritised, including children in rural areas, 12 to 14-year-olds and disabled children, it said.

The Holiday Childcare Survey 2021 was based on polls from local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, returned between April and June 2021. The report covered Ofsted-registered holiday clubs managed by the private, voluntary and independent sectors and those run by local authorities.

Holiday clubs in the private, voluntary and independent sectors were found to be on average 28% more expensive than those run by local authorities. But only 12% of holiday childcare was run by local authorities across Britain, the report said.

The use of childminders, informal childcare, and holiday camps such as football and drama clubs was excluded from the report.

A Government spokesperson said: “Ensuring sufficient childcare for families continues to remain a Government priority and we’ve made an unprecedented investment in childcare over the past decade.

“We have increased hourly rates for childcare providers to support our free childcare entitlement offers, and working families in receipt of Universal Credit may also claim back up to 85% of their childcare costs,  if they are eligible.

“Children and young people can attend summer schools as well as our expanded Holiday Activities and Food programme this summer.”

Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s shadow minister for children and early years, said: “Families are now facing a summer of stress as they struggle to find or afford childcare on top of all the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. Unaffordable childcare risks forcing parents out of their jobs, with devastating economic consequences.

“The Government needs to wake up to the problems facing parents and start investing in the high quality childcare they need all year round.”

– Here are the average weekly childcare prices, in 2021, according to the report:

– Britain, £144.65

– England, £147.01

– Scotland, £118.05

– Wales, £134.18

English regions:

– East of England, £142.49

– East Midlands, £155.96

– Inner London, £152.73

– Outer London, £146.54

– North East, £153.72

– North West, £129.09

– South East, £141.52

– South West, £160.30

– West Midlands, £152.54

– Yorkshire and the Humber, £143.60