The annual childcare and early years survey for parents, which has been running for more than ten years, was commissioned by the Department for Education.
It aims to provide data on parents’ use of childcare and early years provision, as well as canvassing their views on childcare, including cost, information, availability and quality.
It also found that more parents in deprived areas are using childcare and early years settings, although families with higher incomes are more likely than others to use formal provision.
Researchers found that the use of formal childcare rose from 38 per cent to 44 per cent in the most deprived areas, and from 48 per cent to 54 per cent ‘in areas in the middle of the deprivation distribution’, but fell from 67 per cent to 60 per cent in the least deprived.
The use of formal childcare was highest among three- and four-year-olds, and informal childcare was highest for babies and toddlers under two.
There has been a significant increase in the average weekly payment made by families between 2011 and 2012, from £47 a week to £54 a week.
However, the study stresses that, ‘any change in the weekly amount paid by families compared with previous years can be influenced by changes in the number of hours of childcare families used during the reference week.’
More than a quarter of parents (27 per cent) reported that it was ‘very difficult or difficult’ to pay for childcare.
On perceptions of cost of childcare, 39 per cent said it was very or fairly poor.
Forty-six per cent of low-income families said they had problems meeting their childcare costs, compared to 17 per cent of better-off families.
In line with previous surveys, the report said that a major finding was that while most parents ‘appear to be able to talk confidently about money they paid out “of their own pocket” for childcare costs, they were less clear about the detail of financial help they received from others or through tax credits.'
The report says that 17 per cent of parents said they received financial support from other sources, but that ‘this is likely to be an underestimate… as many parents seem not to consider their early education place to be paid for’.”
The Pre-School Learning Alliance said it was 'interesting' that while the survey states that more than half of non-working mothers would opt to return to work if they could arrange good quality childcare, it also found that nearly three quarters of parents who have not used any childcare in the past year have not done so because they would rather look after their children themselves. Similarly, the report reveals that around 94 per cent of working mothers would like to spend more time with their children.
Neil Leitch, the Alliance's chief executive, said, ‘While it’s often assumed by government that all non-working parents would return to work if childcare affordability was not an issue, these statistics shows that such an assumption is overly simplistic.
'It’s unsurprising and yet still disappointing that nearly 40 per cent of those surveyed rate affordability of childcare as very or fairly poor. The fact that so many families are struggling with the cost of childcare while, at the same time, many providers continue to operate at a loss in order to subsidise free entitlement places, is a direct consequence of the continued poor level of sector funding.
'Until the Government starts to invest adequately in the early years – the UK continues to spend half as much as a percentage of GDP as countries such as Sweden and Denmark – the cost of childcare will remain a significant challenge to many families.'
4Children said that the survey showed that childcare was ‘a crucial’ part of life for families, but that cost and lack of flexibility remained a challenge.
Chief executive Anne Longfield said, ‘Our own recent polling showed that around one-quarter of parents think having more affordable, flexible or accessible childcare would make the most real positive difference to their family life. That’s why parents are looking to all political parties to provide a guarantee for childcare that is affordable and high quality.’
4Children is calling on the Government to extend the pupil premium in the Budget to early years to increase investment in childcare.
‘This is something the Deputy Prime Minister has indicated he is actively considering. This would be exactly the shift of ambition we need if we’re going to make Britain great for children and families,’ Ms Longfield added.
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said the report was ‘yet more evidence that overall childcare cost and accessibility remain a significant challenge for many families. While the data on hourly rates indicates a reduction in cost, we know from other research that the overall, real costs of childcare are increasing. Our members are also telling us that many families are choosing to reduce their total childcare hours in response to increased costs.
‘So, while it is encouraging to see figures showing an increase in uptake of formal childcare for children from deprived areas, the report also highlights that many parents still feel that finding accessible childcare in their local area is challenging and that cost remains a significant barrier to many wishing to returning to work or study.’
The Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents 2012-13 was carried out by Ipsos MORI for the DfE and involved face-to-face interviews with 6,393 parents in England between November 2012 and June 2013.
The researchers say that their findings suggest that more than 6.1 million children in England across 4.2 million families received childcare in 2012, with 4.7 million using formal provision and 2.8 million in informal childcare.