Expert / 8 January, 2020 / Ellie Thompson

Childcare Is More Expensive Than Sending Your Child To University

As 2019 drew to a close, the Government released the latest Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents, reporting a rise in the number of families that found it “difficult” or “very difficult” to meet their childcare costs. The enormous challenge for many parents to meet rising childcare costs and return to work without breaking the bank comes as little surprise. Yoopies UK research shows that the UK ranks in the top three most expensive countries for childcare in Europe, surpassing the price of a University degree in the UK.

Unaffordable childcare for over a quarter of parents

During the election, childcare was titled “the holy grail” and major political parties promised ambitious proposals to improve the cost of childcare in the UK. Better funding of the Early Years Sector and bigger Government-funded schemes featured as top priorities, and with good reason. The latest Government research highlights that over “one quarter (27%) of parents” found meeting childcare costs “difficult or very difficult, a rise from 23% in 2018”[1]

From the survey, it is increasingly clear that families use formal childcare out of necessity and cost-effective and flexible-hour reform is wanted. Over one-third of families continue to use childcare, yet, an increasing number of parents admitted that if they were to improve local childcare provisions, they wanted “more affordable childcare and more childcare in the school holidays”[2] As the traditional family structure continues to change, with more than three-fifths of mothers in work[3], we can’t help but wonder how working parents juggle their career and childcare costs. Our concern was mirrored in the Government survey which revealed well under half of parents (42%) rated the affordability of local childcare as “very or fairly good.”[4]

The Government survey also revealed an increase in the number of children cared for by their grandparents.[5] Emma, a working-mum of one, admitted “I’ve had to ask my parents to take care of my son during the week to save on childcare costs. Not everyone has family close-by who can or are willing to help.”[6]

Do we pay the most in Europe for childcare?

A Yoopies study, reveals that British parents pay much more than their European neighbours for childcare.[7] The UK ranks as the second most expensive country for childminding services, with parents forking out £858[8] on average without government aid. This figure is £1046 higher than a year’s worth of university tuition fees (£9250), despite being the cheaper alternative to nurseries. The most expensive country is Switzerland (£958), in third place is the Netherlands (£663) and in fourth place, France (£435).


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Government aid schemes significantly reduce childcare costs across Europe, meaning parents in Europe pay a fraction of what British parents pay. Yet even after child benefit deductions, the UK is still the second most expensive country, with families spending more than £370 a month on average.[9] That’s three times more expensive than childminding in France, which jumps from the fourth most expensive to the cheapest in Europe.

Is accessing Government-aid more challenging in the UK?

We’ve concluded so far that Government aid schemes are less financially beneficial for parents in the UK than in Europe. For some families the cost of childcare actually exceeds the support available, meaning parents are paying more in childcare costs than they are earning.[10]

However, in addition to this, accessing government-funded childcare is a lengthy and unclear process for many parents as well. Navigating childcare benefits schemes continues to be such a minefield that parents are simply unaware or opt-out of the funding available to them. The Government Survey showed that the most common reason for not applying for the free 30-hours scheme was that parents “didn’t think they were eligible.”[11]

Countries including France already offer integrated payment systems directly into their childcare benefit schemes, meaning parents can choose to use their benefits as discounts for childcare payments quickly and easily at the click of a button. In the UK however, parents continue to wrestle with a fragmented system to access benefits, with multiple entry points and piles of paperwork.

In order to improve perceptions of affordability, the Government needs to better fund, streamline and clarify current schemes if they are to be beneficial for the modern family.


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[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [11] Source: Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents 2019
[6] Source: Parent from
[7]  Countries in the study include: France, Switzerland, UK, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany
[8]  Cost per month of a childminder for 30 hours a week for a two-year-old child in an average income family living in London
[9]Cost per month of a childminder for 30 hours a week for a two-year-old child in an average income family living in London with 15h free childcare and Universal Credit
[10] Source: CORAM Family and Childcare Survey 2019

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