Page last updated at 01:03 GMT, Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Childcare fees 'continue to rise'

boy eating biscuit
Paying for early years care can be a costly affair

Many parents in Britain are paying in excess of 8,000 a year for a full-time nursery place, a survey suggests.

The Daycare Trust found the yearly cost of a typical nursery place for a child under two was 8,684 in England, 8,216 in Scotland and 7,592 in Wales.

The trust said for England this was a 5% increase on the previous 12 months, compared with a 3.1% inflation rate.

Ministers said the survey findings were misleading and did not take into account the available financial help.

It comes as the government has published a review of childcare in England, in an attempt to make the system more flexible and affordable and to ensure standards remained high.

Tax credits

The Daycare Trust figures are based on a survey of 136 Family Information Services (FIS) in England, Scotland and Wales, based on 50 hours a week in a nursery over 52-weeks.

The findings indicate the highest childcare costs were in London and the South East, where typical costs ranged from 173 to 226 a week.

In the most expensive case, parents were paying 400 a week, the equivalent of 20,800 a year.

Yet again the cost of nursery places has increased above inflation
Emma Knights, Daycare Trust

In total, 69% of FISs said parents had reported a lack of childcare in their area over the past year and 59% of FISs reported insufficient childcare in their area for over 12s.

Also, 56% reported insufficient childcare for disabled children and children with special education needs.

The government disputed the validity of the findings.

In a letter to the Daycare Trust, Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said the survey was based on parents requiring 50 hours of childcare all year round for under-fives, which was "more than most parents take up or want".

She said the survey did not acknowledge the tax credit system for working parents or childcare vouchers offered through employers.

The early years grants, available for children in the term after their third birthday, was also ignored, she said.

'Big drain'

Daycare Trust joint chief executive Emma Knights said: "Yet again the cost of nursery places has increased above inflation, making pre-school education a big drain on family budgets at a time of financial uncertainty.

Young girls playing
At three, children receive 2.5 hours of free daily childcare (term-time only)

"It is crucial that parents claim all the help they are entitled to, and that the government increase the free childcare entitlement to include all two-years-olds.

"The current review of tax credits should increase the maximum proportion of childcare costs the poorest parents can claim from 80% to 100%."

Shadow families minister Maria Miller said: "The government must do more to make sure more families who are eligible for childcare support through the tax credit system actually receive it.

"At the moment, the system is overly complicated and that means only one in four families who are eligible are actually claiming the credit."

A-levels

The government's "Next steps for early learning and childcare" strategy for England includes plans to make it a legal requirement from 2015 for all childcare professionals to be qualified to A-level or an equivalent standard.

Ministers have also committed to piloting a "Teach First"-style programme to attract the best graduates into the sector.

The Teach First scheme recruits top graduates to teach for at least two years in challenging schools.

The strategy will offer free early learning and childcare places for 15% of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds in England.

It also outlines plans for a childcare comparison website, which will give information on staff ratios and qualifications, as well as prices.

And more after-school club providers will be encouraged to join the Ofsted childcare register, so that parents can access financial help via tax credits.

Ms Hughes said: "The quality and confidence of the workforce is of the utmost importance for early years providers.

"Early learning and childcare professionals need to have the same level of professionalism as teachers."

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SEE ALSO
Authors oppose 'toddler targets'
24 Jul 08 |  Education
Review urged on pre-school plans
30 Nov 07 |  Education
Free nursery place scheme grows
07 Nov 07 |  Education

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