Nursery fees ‘like second mortgage’ for families

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PARENTS are facing year-long waits for places at nurseries and paying some of the highest fees in the developed world – with the chair of the Jersey Child Care Trust comparing costs to a ‘second mortgage’ for families already struggling with higher bills.

Fiona Vacher said nursery fees were a ‘significant cost’ for Islanders, while Scrutiny chair Deputy Catherine Curtis said there were nursery staff who could not go back to work as the cost of having their child looked after was too much.

One parent told the JEP that the cheapest nursery they found amounted to £1,300 for five days, and that they had been turned away by one mortgage provider as they had a child in childcare.

Teacher Niamh Balleine said: ‘When our daughter was born in 2019 – not only could we not find a nursery that could take her, they were all full with a year-long waiting list.

‘The cheapest nursery we found was £1,300 a month for five days. This would have left us with less than £200 a month to live off after bills and we weren’t entitled to any help.

‘We are trying to save for a mortgage and were turned away from a local mortgage provider simply for having a child in childcare without even looking at our finances.’

Another parent said they were paying a ‘premium’ for local nursery services, but praised the care that staff provided.

‘It’s worth adding that it’s often not financially viable for both parents from an average-income household to return to work full-time, because they would earn less than the extra cost of childcare,’ he said.

‘My wife works part-time and looks after him when he’s not at nursery. We also rely on my parents once a week to have him for the morning.

‘We end up paying £700 per month for his nursery hours, the weekly full-time rate is something like £410. While that amount feels like a lot, he really enjoys going to nursery and we know the care the staff provide is brilliant.’

One parent also told the JEP that after enquiring about a full-time place at a nursery in June, they were told the next available opening space was in 2024.

She sends her children to nursery twice a week, while relying on help from grandparents and taking a day of annual leave weekly to look after her child for the rest of the week.

She said: ‘The cost is one thing but we don’t have the ability to make a choice.

‘I would pay my whole salary to go on childcare, to get a spot in a convenient location.’

The UK was recently ranked as the second-most expensive nation for childcare costs in the world, according to the OECD. The cost for a child under two in inner London was the highest in the UK at £183.56 for a 25-hour week, according to the Coram Family and Childcare’s 21st annual Childcare Survey, and many families in the Island told the JEP they were facing similarly high costs.

At a recent Chamber of Commerce lunch, Chief Minister Kristina Moore was asked if the government was looking into the cost of childcare.

Deputy Moore said: ‘I am aware of the issues of childcare and the scarcity of that workforce.

‘Care workers can now rent in the qualified and non-qualified sectors in order to help them achieve a better quality of life when they are here because we recognise that we have some great gaps… economic activity is sometimes really challenged by scarcity in that sector.’

Ms Vacher has called for the Island to learn from Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Denmark as examples of childcare policies.

‘Nursery fees are a significant cost for families in Jersey, some liken it to a second mortgage.

‘In other countries you have governments which step in and enable them to work.

‘Nordic countries are a good model to look at. In Denmark and Sweden all children from the age of two are in a nursery centre and apart from that families are given money to stay at home. It comes from a whole policy approach to taxes and distribution.’

Ms Vacher added that while Jersey could look elsewhere for advice on a model of childcare, the Island had ‘come a long way’ after the introduction of a new maternity law in 2015.

‘We didn’t have a maternity policy, we had parents taking two weeks of holiday after having a baby. We are now having paid parental leave…that has happened in such a short amount of time,’ she said.

Children, Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel chair Deputy Curtis said: ‘Ironically there are nursery staff who can’t go back to work after having children of their own because the childcare is too expensive.

‘Something that is holding back progress in getting more funded nursery care is the shortage of staff in the nursery care sector.

‘We asked about this in public hearings. I believe the nursery staff shortage is part of the wider problem in Jersey of essential staff shortages – which is down to the high cost of living, especially housing, so that young people are leaving the Island, and new staff cannot afford to live here.’

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