Employers for Childcare released its 10th annual childcare report last week. The report said similar things to the 2018 survey – but that doesn’t mean things are the same.
Childcare continues to represent a major cost for families. In the broadest sense, it is the second highest monthly cost for parents, after housing, while costs have risen faster than inflation over the decade measured by the charity.
The 2018 report found that 67% of childcare providers had an increase in expenditure, yet only 19% increased their fees, with many absorbing the increasing overheads rather than passing them on to parents.
This year’s found that 73% of providers saw increased costs during the year, with only 29% seeing an increase in income. Each report might say something similar but the story is of a structure that is more unstable than last year.
And herein is the great problem at the heart of childcare in NI – costs are a huge burden for families but providers are also under strain.
The only solution, therefore, is a systemic change that almost certainly involves statutory support – i.e. the sort of thing that might be found in a childcare strategy which Northern Ireland still does not have despite this being a mandated commitment dating back to the 2011-2015 Programme for Government.
NI is the only part of the UK without a childcare strategy and while childcare in England and elsewhere is not perfect circumstances are still much easier for parents and attempts at finding solutions have been made.
Even in these stretched circumstances there are encouraging signs. 87% of parents think the quality of childcare is good or very good – which is to the credit of providers in difficult circumstances.
Childcare is important for children’s development. However, it is not just a social issue, as it also has significant economic and labour market ramifications.
Employers for Childcare’s campaigning is drawing allies from different fields in NI. Writing in the News Letter yesterday, Tina McKenzie, Policy Chair for the Federation of Small Businesses, outlined the importance of affordable and accessible childcare to the local economy.