A new survey carried out by Save the Children and Daycare Trust shows that Scottish families on low incomes are forced to leave work and turn down jobs because they cannot afford to pay for childcare.
Indeed, parents on all incomes say that they cannot afford not to work because they are struggling to pay to have their children looked after.
Despite many parents cutting back on their spending, a third of those living in the worst poverty (defined as a yearly income of less than £12,000) have ended up in debt as a result.
With Scots parents paying the highest in the UK for childcare, Save the Children is urging the Scottish government to take action at the earliest opportunity.
The charity is calling for an extension of free entitlement to childcare and nursery education for the poorest families in Scotland.
There is a statutory entitlement for 15 hours nursery education for three and four year olds in England. Only a handful of Scottish local authorities are delivering this commitment so far, as a formal agreement to have achieved this by August 2010 has been delayed.
The cut to the working tax credit has also dealt a massive blow to hard working families struggling in severe poverty with almost half considering giving up work because they will no longer earn enough to cover the childcare bill. The cut has added on average £500 per year on to the childcare bill for some low income families.
Douglas Hamilton, Save the Children’s Head of Scotland commented: “Scottish parents are literally being forced out of work by a combination of the highest childcare rates in Britain and a lack of measures to help families meet costs. Childcare is so expensive it’s becoming a luxury that only families earning a very good wage can comfortably afford. For families on low incomes they simply won’t earn enough to cover their childcare bill as well as living costs – making work an unrealistic option.
He added: “The Scottish government must give the poorest parents a chance to work their way above the poverty line. We know that the best way out of child poverty is to help parents into jobs Today’s legislative programme provides an opportunity to take action to make a real impact on child poverty in Scotland”.
Average childcare costs in Scotland are more than half of average part time weekly earnings – more than anywhere else in the world – and such high costs have the greatest consequences for the poorest families. Of those families in severe poverty, nearly half have cut back on food to afford childcare and 58 per cent said they were, or would be, no better off working once childcare is paid for.
Other key survey findings are that:
* A quarter of parents in severe poverty have given up work and a third have turned down a job mainly because of high childcare costs
* 41 per cent of parents in severe poverty are considering giving up work because the cuts to the working tax credit means they can no longer afford childcare.
* The majority of parents living in severe poverty (61 per cent) said they were struggling to pay for childcare compared to around a third of parents on higher incomes (37 per cent).
* Families in severe poverty were twice as likely as better off families to move home because of the high costs of childcare.
* 26 per cent of parents in severe poverty have been unable to take up education or training because of high childcare costs.
* 63 per cent of parents, regardless of income, say they cannot afford not to work but struggle to pay for childcare
* The costs of childcare are on a par with 41 per cent of families' mortgage or rent payments
* A quarter of parents, regardless of incomes, said the cost of childcare has caused them to get into debt.
In a bid to prevent low income families from being priced out of work and into poverty, Save the Children is calling on the Scottish government to make childcare more affordable by:
* Introducing an entitlement of 15 hours childcare per week for two year olds, starting with those families on the lowest incomes.
* Meeting the commitment of 15 hours a week of nursery education for three- and four-year-olds.
* Introducing out of school care entitlement for five- to fourteen-year-olds for children living in low income households.
* Negotiating with the UK government to increase support to pay for childcare under Universal Credit.
The Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland states that: “It is unlikely that the Scottish Government or local partners will be able to devote significant new resources to supporting the costs of childcare in the immediate future”
Save the Children believes there is clear justification for prioritising measures for childcare costs, which would support parents to enter and remain in employment and training and would go some way to making work pay for families living on low incomes.
One parent from Edinburgh told the charity: “I feel trapped by the government. I am a student nurse and my husband works, so I’m not entitled to get any help with childcare costs. We are struggling to pay our mortgage and for me to continue with my studies because of the cost of childcare. I might have to end my studies and go on the dole, it will be more financially viable”.
A parent from Fife said: “I don’t want to claim benefits, I’d rather be in work or education that will benefit my kids in the longer term. I tried this before and ended up in debt trying to keep up with the cost of childcare and this was before the cuts. What is even more outrageous is that my monthly childcare bill is three times as much as my monthly rent”.
Figures released in March 2011 showed that the average monthly mortgage repayment in Scotland was £514 and rent, £531, whereas a full time private nursery place for a child under two in Scotland is an average £796 per month – nearly £300 more.
Save the Children and Daycare Trust are calling on Scots to support the campaign to boost childcare support for the poorest families.
* Daycare Trust is a national childcare charity which has been working since November 1986 to promote high quality affordable childcare for all. http://www.daycaretrust.org.uk/ 
* More information at: www.savethechildren.org.uk/childcare 
* Poverty Truth Commission: http://www.povertytruthcommission.org/