Childcare bills: Parents march for 'urgent intervention'

Parent Clare Sloane and daughter at childcare march in Belfast
Clare Sloane said the march was about getting childcare back to the top of the agenda [BBC]

Hundreds of people have attended a march calling for better childcare provision in Northern Ireland.

Parents in Northern Ireland do not get free childcare hours, unlike other parts of the UK where parents are entitled to 30 free hours.

Lobby group Melted Parents NI, the organisers of the Belfast march, has demanded "urgent intervention" from Stormont's ministers.

It says families are "feeling abandoned and overwhelmed".

Stormont's Education Minister Paul Givan has previously said a childcare strategy could cost up to £400m.

The Northern Ireland first and deputy first ministers have also emphasised the importance of good quality and accessible childcare.

In February, First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she was "focused on ensuring the executive delivers a childcare strategy that puts the needs of working families front and centre".

Becca Harper at Melted Parents march
Group co-founder Becca Harper said parents were witnessing "a troubling lack of tangible progress" from Stormont [BBC]

Melted Parents NI said the protest on Saturday was demanding the Stormont Executive "deliver on long promised, urgent intervention that will impact the pockets of families hit with extortionate childcare bills".

It also wants ministers to "consult with families and have true parent representation to ensure a childcare strategy will meet the needs of all families and children".

Casey McGivern, co-founder of Melted Parents, said: "Immediate intervention is needed to support families and ultimately keep parents in jobs they've worked hard for."

Co-founder Becca Harper said the executive needed to grasp the urgency of the situation.

"Despite assurances from the executive, we're witnessing a troubling lack of tangible progress, leaving families feeling abandoned and overwhelmed," she said.

Parents at Melted Parents rally
Melted Parents NI has called for "immediate intervention" [BBC]

In March, Melted Parents NI surveyed just over 1,800 parents in Northern Ireland, with 88.4% saying they had received notice of an imminent rate increase from their childcare provider in the lead up to the planned increase in the National Living Wage in April.

The survey found the average annual rate for one child in full-time childcare in Northern Ireland was £14,423 - an increase of 21.3% since the group's childcare survey report in September 2023.

How much does childcare in NI cost?

In 2023, a major review by the Department of Education found that the majority of parents on low and middle-incomes "consider childcare to be unaffordable".

Similarly, figures from Employers for Childcare found the average cost of full-time childcare in Northern Ireland was more than £10,000 a year for one child.

Parents have previously told BBC News NI that more financial support from the government is needed in order to tackle "extortionate" childcare costs.

What help can NI parents get with childcare costs?

While there is currently no free childcare scheme available in Northern Ireland, working parents can avail of some supports.

This includes tax credits, universal credit, childcare vouchers and tax-free childcare.

That is different to the likes of England where many working parents of three and four-year-olds are eligible for 30 hours of free childcare per week during term time.