Northern Ireland

‘It’s the biggest thing stopping us from progressing our own family’ - Parents speak out as childcare costs rise again

Two young families tell the Irish News how childcare costs are putting them in debt and delaying family plans

Courtney Campbell from Moy pictured with her daughter Emily and husband Luke.
Courtney Campbell from Moy pictured with her daughter Emily (3) and husband Luke.

TWO young families in Northern Ireland have told The Irish News about the crippling effect of yet another year of rising childcare costs.

Courtney Campbell (28) and husband Luke from Moy send their three-year-old daughter Emily to childcare five days a week.

Their costs have now increased for the third year in a row, starting out at £165 a week before increasing to £195 and now £225 – around £900 a month.

Like many other families, they feel uncertain about whether they can afford to have another child.

Another married couple from Newtownabbey, with two children aged three and one, are paying over £1,800 a month for fulltime childcare.

Despite collectively earning over £100,000, they are still in thousands of pounds of credit card debt in order to pay their monthly bills.

Both families will be joining a protest in Belfast on Saturday April 20, organised by the Melted Parents campaign group.

While parents in Northern Ireland can avail of the 20% tax discount for childcare, they are still far behind provisions in England where 30 hours of free childcare a week is offered.

Courtney said: “We basically don’t have a choice but to work full time and send our daughter to childcare, but we’ve had around a 35% cost increase since she started.

“We are both on quite okay salaries, but that is over half of my monthly wage right away to childcare which means there’s not really enough left.”

She said the return of the Stormont Executive has not increased her hopes.

“We’ve been let down time and time again. So unless we seem some form of action and not just words then I don’t think there’ll be much change at all,” she said.

“Obviously we get asked quite a lot if we’re thinking about having another one, now that Emily is three.

“The answer is always ‘it all depends if we can afford it.’ That’s the biggest thing that is stopping us from even progressing our own family.”

Courtney Campbell from Moy pictured with her daughter Emily (3) and husband Luke.
Courtney Campbell from Moy pictured with her daughter Emily (3) and husband Luke.

The mother of two from Newtownabbey, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she was given a month’s notice that her weekly bill was rising from £425 to £457 – over £1,800 a month.

“To be honest, if we didn’t have support from family at the moment, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” she said.

“We’re putting food shops on credit cards. I’m earning around £40,000 and my husband is on around £70,000.

“We don’t have low salaries, and yet we’re sending a minimum of £1,800 a month on childcare.”

Using the government 20% reduction, this still only allows for £500 per child every three months.

“So because our fees are so high, we run out of entitlement by the time it gets to month three,” she said.

“After that we pay the full whack. It’s completely unsustainable for any family. "

Feeling like she’s fighting against “a completely warped system,” she adds: “Month to month I often have these conversations with my husband, ‘is this what it’s meant to be like?’

“We both went to university and studied for a degree, but we don’t have anything left at the end of the month.

“Our savings have been completely obliterated, we are thousands of pounds in debt with credit cards.

“My mum gives us £200 a month, my husband’s parents will try to give us some money here and there.

“That’s the level that we’re struggling and we’re a household that’s earning over £100,000.”

Alliance MLA Kate Nicholl has repeated calls for the Education Minister Paul Givan to “move beyond words” about support on childcare costs.

“Parents are feeling let down, disappointed and angry that what was promised has not been delivered,” she told the Assembly.

In February, Mr Givan stated a new early learning and childcare strategy was “a top priority” for him, but could cost £400m.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “The minister has made it clear that the development of an Early Learning and Childcare Strategy is a top priority. He is acutely aware that the cost of childcare puts immense strain on family finances and, in some cases, prevents parents from entering and remaining in the workforce.”

They added that the minister was committed to delivering “a bespoke and affordable scheme” for Northern Ireland, but was also considering short-term measures as “putting in place the full infrastructure required will take time”.

With department officials and “actively considering” what measures are possible,” the spokesperson said “a thorough assessment” of all the relevant evidence was a key part of the minister’s work.

“He is engaging with parents, providers and other stakeholders to hear first hand what action needs to be taken to enable the provision of accessible and affordable childcare. Their ongoing involvement will also be required to inform the implementation of solutions.

“He will continue to make the case for the funding to progress a strategy a priority.”