Parents in the capital have to pay out an average of £22,000 for a nursery place over four years – more than £5,500 higher than the UK average. Once families have more than one child, the costs escalate leaving them struggling to afford much beyond the basics.
With costs as high as this, and the increasing of other household bills, it is not difficult to see why more and more parents, and particularly women, are forced to leave work. Of course, for some families, this will be the right option but it has to be a choice. In the current circumstances, leaving work is the only option because the numbers simply don’t add up.
Last year I met young women who were keen to get onto a college course for whom childcare costs were utterly unaffordable. They knew that without college qualifications their chances of getting work would be slim.
As part of its 2007 manifesto, the SNP promised to increase the entitlement for free nursery education for 3 and 4 year olds from 400 to 600 hours a year. This will finally be delivered as part of the Children and Young People Bill which goes before Parliament next week.
However, flexibility is a key issue – those 600 hours have to be available at times when families need them. A key concern in Edinburgh is a lack of capacity, partly due to the fact that a large number of places are taken up by families that commute into the city for work.
If we are to deliver better childcare, there needs to be a real focus on increasing provision to ensure that there are enough places to meet demand. The Council is working to develop measures to provide extra support for parents.
Alongside this, my colleague Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour’s Education spokesperson, has launched the Every Step campaign – which is seeking to speak to 20,000 people over the next few months to gauge their experience of childcare provision in the city. This will help create and shape ideas for the future. If you would like to take part, you can access details of the campaign and the online survey here.