Soaring childcare costs mean working parents earning the National Living Wage are struggling to make ends meet, especially during school holidays, a charity has found.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) called for a "fundamental reform" which would see affordable high-quality childcare provision available to low-income families spanning summer breaks and the working days.
It calculated that the current system leaves a family of four - with both parents working full time for £7.20 an hour - £2,600 a year, or £50 a week, short of the amount needed to pay for what the public would regard as a minimum standard of living.
This assumed expenses such as £100 a week for food, £109 for "social and cultural participation", £92 for rent, £55 for motoring, £44 for clothing and £23 for council tax. The biggest expense of all would be childcare at £228.
The charity called for the Government to extend the 15 hours of free childcare offered for three and four year olds to cover the full working day and make it available for 48 weeks a year rather than 38.
It also urged ministers to make childcare free to families on the lowest incomes, with costs capped at 10% of disposable income with those on low to middle earnings.
JRF chief executive Julia Unwin said: "The cost and difficulty in balancing work and caring is felt by all families, especially as the summer holidays get under way.
"But for parents earning low wages, the choice is even starker - struggle to make ends meet and sacrifice family time, or suffer an even lower living standard from working fewer hours.
"Childcare has become the one of the biggest barriers to reaching a decent living standard in modern Britain.
"Work should always be the best route to a better life, but these figures show that a comprehensive plan to bring down the high cost of childcare - and improve the returns from working more hours - is desperately needed."