THE biggest-ever public investment in childcare in England was announced in the latest Budget, but Fermanagh’s parents won’t be benefitting from it.
At the moment, eligible parents in England can claim up to 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds, as well as 15 hours for some two-year-olds.
The reforms will extend this to all children from nine months to five years by September 2025.
Critically though, other than the increase to the maximum monthly support for childcare costs through Universal Credit, the reforms announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will not apply in Northern Ireland.
Due to the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, and ring-fenced funding for childcare here, this month’s Budget only serves to widen the gap between the North and the rest of the UK regarding financial support with childcare.
This was highlighted by a childcare business owner in Fermanagh, who said urgent support was needed to help the struggling sector.
Clare Maguire owns Burrendale Day Nursery in Enniskillen and revealed the desperate state of the local industry.
“My light and heating costs have gone up from £9,000 to £25,000 in one year. My food bill went up by £7,000. I had to increase my prices to save my business,” Ms Maguire told the Fermanagh Herald recently.
“I really do feel for the parents and what they have to put up with now, but I was left with no other option, and it’s the same with other nurseries here.”
It all leaves families in the North even further behind those in other parts of the UK in terms of the financial support available for childcare.
“We know the political parties in Northern Ireland have expressed their commitment to delivering on childcare,” Aoife Hamilton, head of charity services at Employers For Childcare said.
“But we need to see promises now translated into policies that put pounds into the pockets of families, and investment in our critical childcare infrastructure.
“To do this, we need to see our Executive back up and running, and addressing childcare as a day one priority.”
Susan Fitzgerald of trade union Unite said that working parents and women working as childminders are facing a growing childcare crisis.
“Parents working outside the home depend on other workers – predominantly women – caring for children inside their own home. Yet public policy is failing both sets of workers,” she said.
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