Childcare costs in the UK have continued to rise above the rate of inflation, according to new figures, leaving almost three-quarters of parents struggling to find affordable childcare in their area.
The survey by childcare charity the Daycare Trust found that childcare costs have risen at above inflation rates for three years running. A typical nursery place for a child under two now costs £134 per week, a rise of nearly five per cent from £128 last year.
This compares to an average household income of £562 a week and average weekly expenditure on housing and food combined of £82 a week.
Parents in some parts of the country, particularly London and the southeast, pay much more. The highest nursery cost identified in the survey was £338 a week, over £17,500 a year.
Stephen Burke, Director of Daycare Trust, said: ďParents in Britain already pay the highest childcare bills in Europe. They tell us they cannot afford to pay any more.
"Affordable childcare for all is crucial to tackle child poverty, to help parents work and train and to raise educational attainment. Quality childcare helps give children a good start in life. But at present access to these benefits depends on how much parents earn and where they live."
Mr Burke added that such high costs threatened to undermine the Governmentís attempts to end child poverty because they forced women out of the workplace.
The charity is calling on the Government to help parents meet rising costs by expanding help available under the Childcare Tax Credit and, in the longer term, create childrenís centres across the country so that every family could have access to quality childcare at an affordable price.
Parents currently pay three-quarters of the cost of childcare, with Government paying most of the rest and a small contribution from employers. In 2002 parents in Britain paid £1.8 billion to the day nursery industry.
Working families on lower incomes who get help with their childcare bill through the childcare tax credit still have to find at least 30 per cent of the cost of childcare, and there is no extra help for families with three or more children using childcare. The current average award through the childcare tax credit is only £49.83 a week.
"The Government needs to help all families access quality affordable childcare near where they live. Investment in the early years is an investment in the future of our country."
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber agreed: "Childcare is now one of the most pressing concerns for unions and parents both in and out of work. The Government has made a good start, now itís for ministers, local councils, employers and unions to grasp the challenge and help make childcare a reality for every parent who wants it."
"If more parents were able to work, it would benefit both the UK economy and employers, and give many children more opportunities and the chance of a better life."