Parents 'spending more on childcare' - survey

small child being fed Four out of five families used some form of childcare last year

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There has been a "significant increase" in the average amount spent by families on childcare in England each week, according to an official survey.

However parents also reported a fall in hourly costs for day nurseries and childminders in 2013, the study found.

While almost half of those surveyed said they found it easy or very easy to meet their childcare costs, 27% said it was "difficult" or "very difficult".

A majority of parents said the quality of available childcare was good.

The report says families in England paid an average of £54 a week for childcare in 2013, compared with £47 the year before, but it suggests that could be because they are using it more.

The study found that on average parents were paying 30p an hour less for day nursery care, and 60p an hour less for childminders in the year to June 2013.

The most expensive type of childcare was a nanny or au pair costing on average £202 a week, and the cheapest was breakfast clubs, costing £14 a week.

While 42% of parents felt there were enough childcare places in their local area, 30% thought there were not.

The wide-ranging study measured the perceptions and opinions of parents in England, and projected that more than four million families used childcare, involving more than six million children.

Lower hourly costs

The government highlighted the fall in hourly rates for nurseries and childminders.

Education Minister Liz Truss said it was "great to see that parents are reporting lower costs for the most popular forms of childcare."

"It is also good to see that more parents on low incomes have access to after-school clubs and other childcare," she said.

The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey) had a more cautious interpretation of the figures.

"This report provides yet more evidence that childcare cost and accessibility remain a significant challenge for many families," said Pacey's chief executive Liz Bayram.

"Whilst the data on hourly rates indicates a reduction in cost, we know from other research that the overall, real costs of childcare are increasing," she said.

"Our members are also telling us that many families are choosing to reduce their total childcare hours in response to increased costs."

'Deprived areas'

The survey found that the numbers of children in formal childcare rose from 38% to 44% for the most deprived areas in the year to 2013, and from 48% to 54% in areas "in the middle of the deprivation distribution".

The proportion of mothers in employment increased from 60% in 2011-12 to 64% the following year.

The Department for Education paid for the survey, which was conducted by Ipsos Mori.

More than six thousand parents in England with children under 15 were interviewed between November 2012 and June 2013.

Interviews were conducted face-to-face in parents' homes and lasted around three-quarters of an hour.

The survey has been conducted annually for more than 10 years.

This latest study found that 62% of children aged four and under received childcare while their parents worked, looked for work, or studied.

"We want to see greater choice and flexibility for parents," said Ms Truss, "which is why it is encouraging that more parents are finding childcare to suit their work commitments."

"We are encouraging school nurseries to open from 08:00 to 18:00 and offer more flexible hours for part-time workers," Ms Truss said.

"It is also why we are establishing Childminder Agencies to increase the number of childminders and cutting red tape for nurseries to enable good ones to expand."

The Department for Education also points out that it has increased free education for all three and four-year-olds from 12.5 to 15 hours a week, and extended support to two-year-olds from low-income families.

Labour says the government should go further.

Lucy Powell, the shadow minister for childcare and children, said the figures "underline the strain that David Cameron's childcare crunch is having on family life".

She said Labour wanted an extension of free early education for three and four-year-olds with parents in work from 15 to 25 hours, which she said would be worth £1,500 per child.

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