Council seeks to expand childcare support as parents pushed to the brink

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A Council is to review its childcare schemes in a bid to expand them as under-pressure parents struggle with crippling costs

Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council’s (LCCC) communities committee approved a motion to try and alleviate the burden on local parents as a survey found 66% reporting insufficient childcare provision in the district.

Bringing forward the motion, Castlereagh South Alderman, Michelle Guy (Alliance) said: “The motion commits to reviewing how the council and community planning partners can support childcare provision in the area, including reviewing whether holiday/wider schemes supported by the council can be expanded.”

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She added: “The evidence base that childcare is in crisis and requires urgent intervention is overwhelming.

Alderman Michelle Guy has proposed the council expands childcare provision. Pic credit: McAuley MultimediaAlderman Michelle Guy has proposed the council expands childcare provision. Pic credit: McAuley Multimedia
Alderman Michelle Guy has proposed the council expands childcare provision. Pic credit: McAuley Multimedia

“The recently formed Melted Parents group carried out a survey of over 3,000 parents in NI. The findings paint a vivid picture of the financial burden on families.

“It found that the average cost of having two children in full-time childcare was nearly £25,000, just £260 less than the average salary in Northern Ireland.

“Over 80% of parents said their childcare costs were higher than their mortgage.

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“Research carried out on behalf of the Department of Education (2023) states that parents were spending, on average, £542 per month on formal childcare.

“This was equivalent to a quarter of the average NI household income in 2019/20, before housing costs.

“These figures are stark and shocking on their own, but when placed in the context of a cost-of-living crisis, the effect is that families are being pushed to the brink.”

The council chamber further heard that the professional childcare system itself was in danger of collapse, as staff vacancies have rocketed by 165% in the last 12 months.

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Alderman Guy said: “Employers for Childcare NI has, for over a decade now, have been carrying out regular childcare surveys of both parents and providers.

“The last set of results published was in 2021, which showed that 66% of parents in Lisburn and Castlereagh report insufficient childcare provision available in this area.

“Childcare providers are struggling to make ends meet, which is forcing some to close, but also doesn’t make childcare an attractive business model for new entrants into this space.

“The survey noted that 71% of childcare providers reported that they were either just breaking even or making loss.

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“While almost a third described their financial position as ‘distressed’ or ‘struggling’, meaning they were at immediate risk of closure or were focused on survival.

“Staff vacancies in childcare providers across NI have increased by 165% in just 12 months between 20/21 and 21/22, from 824 to 2,182 . This is absolutely bleak.”

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She added: “I am very proud of the level, quality and affordability of holiday scheme provision this council already provides.“Opening of registration for these schemes is hotly anticipated by parents and inevitably we are left with many disappointed families.

“I think there is a real opportunity to review this provision to further refine and tailor what we deliver to best meet the needs of ratepayers.”

Following a debate in chambers the motion was unanimously approved.

A council officer is now due to speak with community plan partners and bring a report back to the committee.