When those little ones are so dear to us all

STEVE DOWNES Parents in the East of England are struggling to "bear the burden" of childcare costs that have soared to as much as £230 a week for a nursery place. With childminder costs as high as £240 a week in the region, mums and dads are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.

STEVE DOWNES

Parents in the East of England are struggling to "bear the burden" of childcare costs that have soared to as much as £230 a week for a nursery place.

With childminder costs as high as £240 a week in the region, mums and dads are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.

With last year's average weekly pay standing at £447, it means working parents are forking out between a third and half of their salaries in childcare costs.

The figures were revealed yesterday in a survey by childcare charity the Daycare Trust, which found the average weekly cost of putting a child aged under two in a nursery had jumped by six per cent, from £144 to £152.

For children over the age of two it has risen to £132 per week, while the average weekly cost of a childminder is £151 for under-twos and £137 for children aged two and over.

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The figures - close to the national average - led to calls for the government to dig deeper to help with the cost of childcare.

Alison Garnham, joint chief executive of the trust, said: "With typical childcare costs rising to over a third of average earnings, parents cannot afford to bear the burden of increasing childcare costs alone. Despite significant government investment in early years and childcare, funding childcare needs to be further improved so that all children have access to high-quality, affordable and accessible childcare."

Some employers have moved to make it easier for parents to have their children cared for while they work. At County Hall in Norwich, there is a childcare provider called Kidease Nursery, which gives Norfolk County Council staff the chance to drop their children off while they work. Weekly costs are above the regional average, at £190 for under twos, £180 for two-year-olds and £160 for three-year-olds.

Nursery manager Charlotte Sandstrom said the nursery had highly-qualified staff and gave excellent value for money.

She added: "They get all the meals that they need, including a morning snack, a cooked lunch and a light tea. Milk is also included in the cost, and nappies.

"We have to take into account building upkeep, staff costs and other overheads. Our ethos is to provide high-quality care."

The Daycare Trust surveyed 122 out of 172 children's information services in England and Wales. Two-thirds said parents reported a lack of affordable childcare in their area.

Parents in London pay the highest prices. The lowest nursery costs are in the midlands, and

the cheapest childminders

are found in the north-west.

Parents in the UK pay about

70pc of the cost of childcare, compared with European parents who pay around 30pc, the charity says.

Children's minister Beverley Hughes said: "We do appreciate the impact that childcare costs can have on the family budget of lower-income families.

"But we are doing more than ever before to make good-quality childcare and early education accessible and affordable. We are providing more than £2m a day through the tax credit system to help almost 400,000 families.

"We are also investing £3bn per year to support free early education so all three and four-year-olds can benefit from 12.5 hours a week free early years provision, irrespective of the employment status of their parents."