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‘The whole setup is diabolical’: parents’ fears over childcare costs

<span>Photograph: Folio Images/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Folio Images/Alamy

Parents who are already struggling with soaring childcare costs have expressed horror after being told their fees are to go up again in the new year by as much as 19%, as nurseries across the country try to cover their own rising costs.

Letters and emails have been sent out by childcare providers, informing parents of the latest price hikes. As a result, some are considering reducing their childcare, pulling their children out, giving up work or even leaving the country to find cheaper childcare abroad.

Parents who responded to a Guardian call-out said they were already spending more on nursery fees than on their mortgage. Others said their salary barely covers their childcare bill as inflationary pressures drive up providers’ costs.

Katie, a charity sector worker in Bath, whose nursery fees for her two-year-old will go up 17.5% in January, with an increase of £10 a day to £67, said: “It’s not unexpected but just adds to the already extremely high cost.

“At the moment the crisis in early years recruitment makes us grateful to even have a space.” Another nursery in the area has given notice to 23 families because of staff shortages, while another has reduced hours at short notice.

A father in Leicester said childcare costs for his daughter went up by 10% in April and will now be going up another 12% in January. “Our three-year-old is only two days in nursery, but is now costing more than £500 a month.”

Sarah, an office worker from Somerset, said: “It just makes me feel sick. Our electric bill has just ticked over in to a higher rate, already fuel and food bills are soaring, then the nursery fee goes up. I have no spare cash at the end of the month.

“My son is 15 months old. Before he was born I had a good paying job and was living comfortably. From when I started looking at nurseries to starting, the fee went up and four months later it’s gone up again. Where is the help for people that want to work?”

Toddler playing with toy
Rising childcare costs will make life even more difficult for families already struggling with the cost of living crisis. Photograph: Mike Abrahams/Alamy

Meanwhile, a father working in financial services in London said nursery costs for his one-year-old daughter, who is in full day care, would go up an eye-watering 19% in January, increasing from £2,100 to £2,500 a month.

Most respondents who contacted the Guardian were sympathetic to childcare providers who are seeing their own costs rise with soaring inflation, and many blamed underfunding of the government’s 30-hour childcare provision for three and four-year-olds which means nurseries have to cross-subsidise “free” hours by increasing their overall fees.

Heather, a solicitor in Leeds, said her two-year-old daughter had been going to a local private nursery for just over a year. “In that time there has been one price increase of 6% last January and we have just been informed that fees will go up again in the coming January by 10%.

“We were expecting it to be high because nurseries are experiencing the same cost increases as everyone else. The government is not increasing early years funding in line with inflation so no wonder nurseries are struggling.

“I had my baby fully expecting to pay good money for her to be educated and looked after while I go to work, so I’m not about to complain about fees going up. It’s the best value for money purchase I make every month and worth every penny.”

Related: Rishi Sunak – if you’re serious about fixing the British economy, invest in childcare | Stella Creasy

Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement last month made no mention of childcare, but as fees go up and childcare providers go under it is likely to become a key election issue.

Ashley Fryer from Kingston upon Thames, who is head of media at a national charity and has an 18-month-old and a four-year-old, will see her childcare bill go up £130 from January. “My husband and I have decent salaries but saving any money every month is impossible given our fees are over £2,600 a month – and that’s before the increase.”

Philippa Mullen, a part-time civil servant and mother of two nursery-aged children, said since her son started nursery in January 2019, fees have gone up four times – but she is yet to receive a pay rise. “The whole setup is diabolical. Working mums in particular are being forced out of work. I don’t have any disposable income whatsoever. The only reason I’m working is for my pension contribution and to keep a foot in the industry.”

A university administrator said his nursery has just announced price increases for the new year from £300 to £312 a week – the second increase in recent months. “It may get to the point where it actually becomes cheaper for one of us to quit their job and look after the child.

“We are also considering how feasible it would be to leave this country and move to another where childcare is free. It may actually be a more viable option than remaining in the UK, which is, frankly, depressing.”

Girl holding painting in class
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said government had put early years providers in an ‘impossible situation by not paying its fair share’. Photograph: Tony Tallec/Alamy

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: “We know nurseries and childcare settings are working hard to keep fee increases down but the government has put early years providers in an impossible situation by not paying its fair share.”

A government spokesperson said the government had spent more than £20bn over the past five years to support families with the cost of childcare and had set out plans to help providers run their businesses more flexibly. “We know many households and childcare providers are facing pressures from recession and high inflation. Improving the cost, choice and availability of high-quality childcare for working parents is important for this government,” they said.

Related: From nanny sharing to apps: how to save money on childcare

CASE STUDIES

Irene Muma, from Grays in Essex, works full-time as an HR business partner, but is planning to reduce the number of days her two-year-old son is at nursery to cut costs.

“As a first-time mum I am feeling the impact of the extreme childcare costs. My son’s childcare costs more than my mortgage and half of my pay goes on childcare. The nursery fees went up in September 2022 from £54 a day to £60. I am at a stage where I will need to reduce my son’s days at nursery and cut down my hours to care for my son. This is not my choice, rather as a consequence of the costs of childcare. As a family we are unable to save sufficiently and we are seeing a reduced standard of living. I am in a constant state of anxiety and stress because my career is just as important as being a mum. I shouldn’t have to choose either or. The combination of high childcare costs and cost of living crisis is really impacting my mental health. And I know a lot of mothers are going through the same struggle.”

Amanda Sheriff, who owns Little Hubbers day nursery in North Shields, is putting up her fees by just over 8% next April in order to stay afloat.

“Yes, fees are going up! The national minimum wage increase alone means I have to find an additional £3000 a month, and that’s without national insurance contributions, tax increases, VAT payments, etc. The building mortgage has gone up £459 a month, food costs have gone up £480 a month, gas and electricity have increased by 40%. Absolutely everything has gone up by 12%-20% in the last six months, yet the government-funded hours have not increased in line with inflation since its implementation in 2017. Of course fees need to go up or we as a business will go under. I’ve got zero choice.”