Education & Family

Summer childcare costs 'may leave children home alone'

Image caption Playschemes and youth services have seen cuts

The rising cost of holiday childcare could lead to more children being left home alone this summer, a charity says.

The Family and Childcare Trust's survey of Britain's nurseries and childminders suggests a week's childcare in holiday periods now averages £109.23.

This is a rise of 9.2% since last year and more than £100 for the first time.

Charity chief executive Anand Shukla said with many nurseries closing for holidays, and cuts to youth services, more children may be left unsupervised.

Holiday childcare can be a particular problem for parents with schools, school-based nurseries and playgroups closed. And as prices continue to rise, many may find it difficult to find holiday cover.

The trust surveyed the 161 family information services based in local authorities across England, Wales and Scotland in May, asking them the average cost of holiday childcare in their area. Some 77% of authorities responded.

Playscheme closures

Its report suggested paying for childcare for two children over four weeks of the holidays would cost parents more than £850 - a price beyond the reach of many on modest incomes.

Six local authorities reported average costs per child of £175 a week.

The report found older school-age children were likely to be hardest hit with cuts to youth services leading to reductions in the availability of play schemes and youth clubs.

Mr Shukla said: "We seem to be moving to a situation where childcare is increasingly thought of as something that affects only the under-fives.

"Our research shows that many local authorities are failing to fulfil their obligations to working parents, in particular those with school-age children who are poorly served or priced-out in many areas."

He added that it was "deeply disappointing to learn that such little progress has been made to meet the holiday childcare needs of older children".

The impact of cuts to youth services, which at one time provided an alternative to formal childcare, adds to the burden faced by working parents.

Mr Shukla added: "With holiday childcare costs rising faster than wages, and with the average weekly rate in Britain now breaking the £100 a week threshold, we are likely to see more parents forced to take unpaid leave - or unable to afford to enter the labour market - and more children left without adult supervision during the summer break.

'Support cut'

"We need to ensure that recent proposals to allow schools to determine their own term times do not add to the problem."

The government has set up a Childcare Commission to look at making childcare more affordable. It is expected to report imminently.

Education minister Elizabeth Truss said the charity had raised some important issues.

"The government wants to make sure that good quality, affordable and reliable childcare helps parents to work. We will shortly set out plans to tackle the affordability and availability of childcare, before and after school and during school holidays.

"Our reforms are already helping working parents. We are making it easier for new providers to enter the market, and enabling childminder agencies to give parents more choice - these agencies will be a one-stop shop for parents and childminders providing holiday cover and training."

Shadow children and families minister Sharon Hodgson said: "Labour tripled the number of places for holiday childcare between 2003 and 2010. But under David Cameron, costs are up by over 12%, local services have disappeared, and financial support has been cut.

"David Cameron promised to make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe, but after three years ministers still have no plan to help parents out during the school holidays. Instead of helping mums and dads to get affordable help with childcare over the Summer, the Tories prioritised tax cuts for millionaires."

Chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association Purnima Tanuku said every year the issue of expensive summer childcare came up.

"We are currently facing a difficult economic time and for providers the cost of delivering childcare has had to go up due to increased running costs such as business rates, utilities and rent.

"There have also been funding cuts at local authority level which has impacted on the amount of provision available to working parents."

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