Action Urged Over Childcare Costs

1 December 2014, 08:06

The Scottish Government has been urged to help working families by ensuring affordable childcare is available, as a report warned that high bills are a "route to in-work poverty'' for many parents.

A report from Citizens Advice Scotland said the average cost of putting a child aged between two and five in nursery for 25 hours a week is £5,307 a year, with this rising to £5,514 for youngsters under the age of two.

Nursery bills for those aged over two have risen by 8.2% in the last year "considerably above inflation'', it added.

Holyrood passed legislation earlier this year to increase the amount of free childcare from 475 hours a year to 600 hours a year for three- and four-year-olds, and disadvantaged two-year-olds.

But a report from Citizens Advice Scotland said: "The increase to 600 hours of free early education will be of benefit to some working parents, but would only cover six months of the year at 25 hours per week, estimated to be the typical amount that a parent working part time might require, so will not cover full costs.''

It added that evidence from Citizens Advice Bureau clients had shown that "for working parents the costs of childcare can be a route to in-work poverty''.

"Despite the increase in the statutory guarantee of hours, a number of issues remain which must be tackled to ensure that Scotland's children get the best start in life and their families can avoid poverty through work,'' the report said.

Parents in Scotland spend an average of 27% of their household income on childcare, the report said, compared to an average of 12% across OECD countries.

The advice charity has now called on the Scottish Government and local councils to "work together to ensure that suitable, affordable childcare is provided for working parents in all areas of Scotland'', stressing that this is "particularly important in rural areas, where provision is reported to be particularly inadequate''.

The Government should also consider the possibility of introducing a statutory right to childcare, it suggested.

Meanwhile with parents on zero-hours contracts facing particular difficulties organising childcare as a result of  unpredictable working patterns, the UK Government should look at giving these workers a statutory right to request guaranteed hours, without risking being dismissed from their job.

Citizens Advice Scotland policy manager Keith Dryburgh said: "Childcare has become a more high-profile issue over the last couple of years, and rightly so. If we get it right, the whole Scottish economy will benefit, as well as the families directly concerned.

"However, the evidence from Scotland's CAB service is clear: childcare isn't working for far too many families in Scotland. And many parents who want to work are unable to do so because they can't get childcare.

"The most frequently cited problems we see are the huge costs. But lack of availability is also a problem in many areas. This is particularly acute in rural and remote areas, but is felt across the whole country. These issues of cost and availability are the two big, preventative barriers that stop parents from getting back to work.

"So in our recommendations today we are calling for the Scottish government and local authorities to do more to make sure that affordable childcare is available across the country. The UK Government should also do more through the tax and benefits system to help ease the burdens that working parents feel.

"Just as important, however, we are also calling on employers to make sure they are offering the right employment policies to suit working families. e.g. flexible working conditions and more consideration when fixing rotas and shifts could make a huge difference to parents when arranging childcare. Many employers already do this but we urge more to follow their lead and help their staff manage this difficult situation.''

Aileen Campbell, Minister for Children and Young People, said: "We agree that childcare costs are considerable outlay for most families and that is why we have already expanded annual funded early learning and childcare for three and four-year-olds to almost 16 hours per week.

"We have extended this to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds and the First Minister has also outlined our ambition to increase early learning and childcare provision by the end of the next parliament from 16 hours a week to 30 hours a week.

"Within the resources available to the Scottish Parliament, we are investing #329 million in this expansion over the next two years, with more than 120,000 children set to benefit over this school year.

"Our 45% increase in funded hours since 2007 is worth up to #707 per child per year. And we have made clear our wish to go further. Of course, the more powers that are delivered to the Scottish Parliament, the more we will be able to do.

"The Children and Young People Act now requires local authorities to consult with groups of parents at least once every two years on patterns of childcare provision which would best meet their needs. This should introduce a greater level of flexibility and choice in to the system as we work with local government to further develop and expand provision.''