Scottish parents are paying among the highest rates of childcare in Europe with “big gaps” in provision which are worse than England, a report today finds.
And the pattern of free nursery education often means parents can’t take it up – with only 15 per cent of councils having enough for parents who work full-time.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to bring about a “transformation” in childcare to get a generation of mothers back into the workplace.
But opponents say parents have been let down as councils cut back on nursery care.
Stephen Dunmore, chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust said: “In spite of positive initiatives implemented by both the Scottish and UK governments, including more hours of free early education in Scotland, the childcare system across Britain needs radical reform.”
The group wants all political parties to back an independent review of childcare.
Part-time childcare for two children under five costs more than the average mortgage, according to an election factsheet issued by the trust.
“For many parents on low- and middle-incomes this means choosing between paying high childcare costs, reducing their hours at work or giving up their job altogether,” it states.
And although more free early education is available in Scotland, it is usually in three-hour slots over five days, which creates problems for working parents who need cover throughout a full day.
This is because there is a shortage of “partnership nurseries” in the private sector which can weave the “free” three-hour slots into a full day.
“Working parents are unable to take up free early education,” the report states.
The Scottish Government’s minister for children and young people Fiona MacLeod yesterday backed calls for a “radical” approach to childcare.
But she insisted childcare hours have already increased by 45 per cent to 600 hours per year, saving families £707 per child per year.
If re-elected at Holyrood next year, the SNP plans to expand childcare to 30 hours a week – or 1,140 a year – for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds.
“That will deliver childcare provision that is equivalent to the length of the school day – giving children the best start in life and enabling parents to back to work without facing the crippling costs of childcare,” Ms MacLeod said.
Scottish Conservative spokeswoman Liz Smith MSP, said Scots have been let down by the SNP.
“The SNP made a very firm promise to deliver more nursery and childcare places yet we know some councils are cutting back on provision,” she said.
“This is unsatisfactory and it is little wonder so many parents are angry.”
Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur added: “We need to go further, especially in Scotland where free care is lagging behind that offered in England.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS