Families facing growing childcare shortages while costs rise by 7%

  • 19 March 2024

Just days away from the first phase of major expansion to childcare support, new research published by Coram today reveals a bleak picture for families, with dramatic drops in the availability of childcare places, and above-inflation rise in childcare costs.

Coram Family and Childcare’s 23rd annual Childcare Survey uncovers the extent of national childcare shortages, with only a third (34%) of English councils reporting sufficient childcare for parents working full-time, a decrease of 14 percentage points on 2023, and just over one in three (35%) reporting enough childcare for children under two, down by 14 percentage points on last year.

The findings show that it is the most disadvantaged children who are missing out, with just 6% of councils reporting sufficient childcare for children with disabilities, a decrease of 12 percentage points on 2023. There are also continued decreases in the availability of childcare across all other areas of provision measured in the survey, including for parents working atypical hours (down by 7 percentage points on 2023) and families in rural areas (down by 14 percentage points on 2023).

Families across Britain are also grappling with childcare costs, with a part-time nursery place (25 hours per week) for a child under two now costing an average of £158 per week, a 7% increase on 2023. The most expensive area in the country is inner London, where parents pay an average of £218 per week for one part-time nursery place.

Today’s report also reveals councils’ concerns over the delivery of the expansion to free early education entitlements, which start from April, and the further impact on the availability of childcare places*. While 63% of councils in England are ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ that there will be enough places to meet demand for the imminent expansion (15 free hours for two-year-olds), just 28% say the same about the expansion from September 2024 (15 free hours from nine months), and this falls to just 12% for the September 2025 expansion (30 hours from nine months).

In addition, the vast majority (90%) of councils identify the local childcare workforce as a ‘barrier’ to successful delivery of the 30 hours free entitlements in 2025, reflecting the significant ongoing challenges to recruit and retain staff.

Ellen Broomé, Managing Director of Coram Family and Childcare, said:

“The new childcare support that is being rolled out from April has the potential to be a game-changer for parents up and down the country – many of whom have found themselves facing high childcare bills and sometimes even locked out of work because of childcare costs.

“Our findings – with higher costs and dramatic drops in availability of childcare places – are concerning at this crucial time, showing the scale of challenge and the very real risks around this policy not living up to parents’ expectations. Unless this policy is properly funded and supported, it could have the opposite effect, with families unable to access or afford the childcare they need and the most disadvantaged children set to miss out on this vital boost to their outcomes.

“The recent additional funding from the Chancellor was welcome but won’t address the long term systemic challenges of high childcare costs for parents, the workforce recruitment and retention crisis or the lack of availability of places for children with SEND.

“Over the next few months, we need the Government to work closely with local authorities and childcare providers to make sure they are supported to deliver for families. And in this election year, we call upon any future government to commit to reforming our childcare system to make sure all children can access high quality early years education and all parents can make meaningful choices about work and care.”

Read the full report