By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education and family
Sending pre-school children to nursery can be expensive
Childcare costs in England, Wales and Scotland are continuing to rise, a survey by the Daycare Trust suggests.
The trust found parents in England paid an average of £4,576 a year for 25 hours of nursery-based childcare a week for a child under two years of age.
Parents in Scotland spent an average of £4,368 and Welsh parents spent £4,056.
The Daycare Trust is now calling for an election commitment from politicians from all parties to make a greater investment in childcare.
The trust's survey of Family Information Services found London and the South East had the highest childcare costs, with average prices for 25 hours of childcare a week ranging from £95 to £109.
The North West of England showed the lowest fees, with average weekly childcare bills ranging from £67 to £76.
Average weekly costs for 25 hours of care ranged between £78 and £84 in Scotland and from £78 to £80 in Wales.
The survey found nursery care for under-twos in England was up 4.8% on last year and up 5.1% for those aged two and over. Childminder costs for the under-twos was up 6.4% and up 9.2% for two-year-olds and over.
In Scotland, nursery fees for under-twos were up by 6.3% and up 8.3% for those two and over. Fees for childminders rose by 2.6% for all ages.
And in Wales, nursery fees for children aged two and above rose by 11.3% and fees for the under-twos rose 6.8%. Childminder costs were up 5.3% for the under twos and 8.1% for those aged two and above.
The survey also found the cost of after-school clubs has risen in England by 12.5% over the past year, whereas costs in Scotland and Wales have fallen by 2% and 4.9% respectively.
The government funds 12.5 hours of care for three and four year olds
Daycare Trust chief executive Alison Garnham said: "Over the last year, families across the UK have been hit hard by the impact of the recession, with parents facing the strain of losing jobs, having their hours cut back or facing pay cuts - all of which is compounded further by childcare costs shooting up.
"We know that whatever the outcome of the election, there are tough spending choices to be made.
"However, we hope that all parties will recognise what a central issue childcare is for parents, and take up our policy recommendations as they build their manifestos."
A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the Daycare Trust findings did not take account of the free childcare available for disadvantaged two years and all three and four year olds.
"The free entitlement for all 3 and 4 year olds is being extended from 12.5 to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year in all local authority areas in England by September 2010," he said.
"We announced our commitment to extend the free entitlement to all 2 year olds more than a year ago.
"The first stage of implementing this commitment has already begun - through enabling local authorities to provide 10 hours of free childcare to 2 year olds in their 15% most disadvantaged communities."
BBC website readers have been sending us their comments on this story. Here is a selection of them.
I am a mother to a two-year-old and I work full time. I pay £444 a month for my child to go to nursery. I want my child to get the best possible start in life, which is why I struggle to pay for it. I think children will be missing out on a great start due to parents not being able to afford nursery fees.
Emily Bennett, Leicester
I am affected by government subsidised childcare, because I have to pay for it. I have two children, and my wife gave up work to look after them. What the government is doing is taking money away from families who live up to their responsibilities and redistributing it to families who don't. That's not right!
I use a childminder four days each week for my one-year-old son and I'm very lucky in that she's wonderful, charges a very fair hourly rate (which works out much less for us per day than the nearby nurseries) and that I get the majority of her fees covered through Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit payments. I certainly have no complaints there.
I am a childcare provider in a nursery and we are having to put up fees to help cover the cost of having so many debtors. To date, we have over £5000 owing to us from people who are defaulting. This represents the salary of up to six members of staff for one month.
Mark Phillips, Wakefield
We have two children under the age of five. We both have been working full-time and the children have been in full-time nursery care since they were one year old. We're currently paying £21K a year for full time care. The government certainly need to make child care in London more affordable to enable more parents to seek employment rather than claim benefits. And no, my husband and I are not high earners - we have had to make sacrifices. This year we've had no holiday, we've only bought essential clothes and certainly no flashy IT equipment.
Leena Johnston, London
As a child minder I try to keep my fees down so that I don't put myself in the exclusive position here only very professional people can use my services. I want to be open to all. This being said, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep costs down. We are required to do far more paper work and far more training and we have to do this in our own time. My actual working week is approximately 70 hours of which I get paid for 55. Maybe the government could pay us for attending the required training or at least allow us to off set it all against our tax.
Anne Cunningham, Maidstone, Kent
My 15-month-old son is in a nursery while I work part-time. This is expensive enough now, but my public sector employer is putting me under pressure to work more hours which would mean an increase in childcare costs. It may cost more for childcare than I will earn soon!
Simon Kerridge, Burgess Hill
I have a 17-month-old son in childcare for four days a week, the cost of this is in excess of £560 per month. The nursery I have chosen is one where he is happy and importantly well cared for. Financially however, the cost of childcare is so high that if my husband and I decided to extend our family, returning to work would almost be crippling.
Tracey, Alderholt, Dorset
It is not only the preschool childcare that is very expensive. The after school club fees are also high. One session costs over £7 per day, which is nearly £36 a week for one child. I have got three children, which means my child care would be £120 a week. My husband had to give up work in June last year as the childcare was too high. The schools are open only 38 weeks in the year and for the rest of the year we had to pay for holiday club, which again is very expensive. The government wants parents to go to work but does not do anything about the childcare fees.
Monika Liddell, London
How dare these people complain? Do they know that many families would like to have 22K a year never mind be able to spend it on childcare so they can have a high class life-style. Effort should be made to provide childcare for those with real needs, like single parent families, not to the 'pseudo well off'.
David Swain, Tring