Childcare costs have shot up for many families, according to a new survey by the Irish Independent.
However, figures from the Central Statistics Office from 2009 show that demand for childcare is less than usually assumed. And in 2010, it emerged that 30,000 children eligible for a Government scheme to provide a free pre-school year did not enroll, suggesting that demand for paid childcare was lower than estimated.
According to The Irish Independent survey, some families are paying more for childcare than for mortgage repayments, with some paying up to €1,100 a month to have just one child minded.
It says that families with two or more children are paying over €2,000 per month whether they use a creche or a childminder.
And a separate survey today shows how parents have had to cut back on their own personal spending to meet the cost of getting children back to school. It now costs close to €540 per household to kit out children for their return to the classroom, results from a specially commissioned KBC Bank/ Irish Independent survey show.
While costs remain high, young families have been hit hard by savage cuts to child benefit rates and the scrapping of a €1,100 a year government supplement for children under five.
The only boost that parents got in recent years was the introduction of the free preschool year in 2009. But this only contributes around €200 a month to childcare costs for children aged three to four.
Estimates suggest that parents are facing childcare costs of anywhere from 20pc of salary up to 41pc, according to a report in 2010 by the OECD.
However, according to CSO figures from 2009, only 31 per cent pre-school children are looked after outside the home for part of each day. These children are mainly looked after in Montessori schools and playgroups. A further 13 per cent are looked after by non-parental relatives.
Meanwhile, 2010 figures showed that there was a lower than expected take up of a Government scheme, Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), which paid for two and a quarter hours per day of childcare for one year with providers receiving a set fee from the State based on the number of places filled.
According to the Government, 90,000 pre-school places had been made available under the scheme, but only 60,000 took it up. The scheme was introduced as a replacement for the Early Childcare Supplement, which was paid directly to parents. This allowed parents to choose whether to spend the money on paid child-care or on helping to enable one parent to remain at home to look after a child.
The EU has set targets on how many children it believes ought to be in childcare. In 2002, at the Barcelona Summit, the European Council said that at least 90 per cent of children between 3 years old and the mandatory school age and at least 33 per cent of children under 3 years of age should be receiving childcare by 2010.