Families face holiday childcare struggles over cost and provision

CHILD'S play.

CHILD'S play.

First published in News
Last updated
Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , T&A Reporter

SCHOOL'S out for the summer and parents and carers are charged with juggling the logistics of childcare around jobs.

A new report published by the Citizens Advice has found that despite Government financial support for pre-school education, practical problems such as lack of evening care and inflexible hours are still a barrier for parents who want to work.

Many mums and dads are also reporting the cost of childcare is stopping them, or their other half, from increasing their working hours or accepting a job.

Under the current system, all three and four year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education or childcare each week, and this is being extended to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds.

But the report says many parents are struggling to find suitable and affordable care with the options available to low-income families and those working evenings, weekends and unreliable hours "considerably narrower" and often involving a compromise on quality.

It found that 75 per cent of childcare providers didn't offer evening or weekend care, and more than half needed a notice period of a month or more to change care arrangements.

Lynn Bradley, director of services for SureStart BHT Children's Centres which operates nurseries throughout the BD4 area of Bradford including Holme Wood, Bierley, Tyersal and East Bowling, sees first-hand the struggles families face.

"We have families coming in from across BD4 and district area and what we have found is that parents are struggling with higher living costs. We have our own in-house advice and debt service and what we know from our own statistics is more and more working families are falling into debt situations because of higher living costs and wages not rising."

Lynn explains families that are the hardest hit tend to be those in un-skilled jobs working in warehouses and factories who tend to be on short term, insecure contracts.

She says changes to the benefits system haven't helped, particularly when applying for childcare, as many nurseries are often waiting for the fees to come through making it difficult for the childcare providers too.

Lynn says they have also noticed a greater increase in families who are turning to their own families to help out with childcare. "They are starting to use family to care for children to reduce costs so they can really benefit from having their income and for more and more women, especially single parents, it is not cost effective for them to work full time if they factor in childcare costs."

She explains many women are working part-time to allow them to access other benefits such as support with housing costs or working tax credits.

In terms of childcare provision, Lynn says there are areas where there is a lot of provision while in others there isn't as much. She says lack of out-of-hours provision also makes it particularly difficult for those working on continental shift patterns who may have to find a childminder who can provide that service.

"I have every sympathy with families who are trying to go out to work and aren't in high income jobs," says Lynn.

"It is really difficult and I think there has got to be a more efficient way of helping parents access what they call in-employment benefits such as working tax credits"

She says small nurseries cannot afford to wait for the fees yet it can take between six and eight weeks for them to come through.

Lynn suggests a more efficient infrastructure to support families accessing their entitlement. She also wants to see the abolition of zero hours contracts as these also make it difficult for parents working those contracts to set up childcare arrangements.

Cathy Ranson from parenting site Netmums said: "Many low income families work low paid shift jobs involving evening and weekend work - but childcare for these times can be almost impossible to come by and incredibly expensive. It's this double blow which means for some families, work simply doesn't pay, keeping them trapped on benefits.

"While there is a reasonable range of childcare options available nine to five weekdays, if you work outside these hours, childcare options like nannies may well cost more than you earn.

"If you have a strong support network of friends and family living nearby who can help out with childcare, then you maybe able to work but many families are finding it impossible. Summer holidays exasperate the problem too as many normal childcare clubs close down or run reduced hours.

"With the burgeoning 24hr economy, this is a real problem which is not only stopping parents from earning a living, it's also impacting on the UK's productivity."

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