Soaring childcare costs puts the pressure on rural families

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Campaigners have warned that families in the countryside are being burdened with soaring childcare costs compared to their counterparts in towns and cities.

New figures show that rural families pay £600 more a year in childcare costs than those in urban areas.

And the cost of living is “rapidly becoming unaffordable” for young families in the countryside, warned Rural Services Network chief executive Graham Biggs.

He said: “Rural residents already pay more council tax in return for fewer services than their urban counterparts due to much less government funding.

“People already have to travel further in the countryside to access vital services - including nurseries, schools and healthcare - than they do in our larger towns and cities.

“Coupled with a lack of affordable rural housing, this latest study is further evidence that suggests families and their children are being priced out of the countryside.”

The study, by NFU Mutual, revealed that weekly care of an infant is 6.3 per cent more expensive in rural than urban areas, with the price differential put down to fewer nurseries being available, thwarting competition.

Almost a third of rural parents have just one nursery or crèche in the local area and a quarter have none within easy reach of their home.

Mum-of-one Jemma Hogg, of Hawes, Upper Wensleydale, spends up to £500 a month on part-time childcare for her four-year-old son Jackson.

She moved back to her home town from Manchester when he was born so he could benefit from a rural upbringing, but is forced to make up the hours in her senior administration job at home in the evenings.

“I’m lucky to have found a great child care provider here in Hawes, but as there is no competition, we are held at their whim. It’s a lifestyle choice to live here, but I know if I were back in Manchester there would be cheaper options,” she said. “It’s expensive and can be a struggle.”

Leah Swain, chief officer at Rural Action Yorkshire, understands the issue only too well.

She picked her son’s school in a village near Boroughbridge primarily due to its before and after school provision, and faces a six mile journey each morning to drop her daughter in nursery, then a seven mile journey back to drop off her son, before her commute to York.

Mrs Swain said: “It’s another thing to add to the list that makes rural living more expensive.

“It’s not just the distance you have to travel, but juggling everything to make sure you get to work on time.

“Flexible working is a real issue for rural parents.”

Last month The Yorkshire Post launched its latest Big Debate on the rural crisis, after experts warned that the combination of swingeing cuts to local authority budgets, soaring house and petrol prices and the disappearance of shops, post offices and pubs had left many rural communities on the brink.

Coun John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said the rising cost and sparse availability of childcare was yet “another hit” for rural communities.

He said: “You begin to wonder if anybody with a young family will be able to afford to live in a rural area. It’s not just the cost of childcare, but the cost of the fuel to get there and back.

“If you lived in the top end of Swaledale, for example, then the nearest childcare centre could be easily as much as 35 miles away. If we’re not careful, it will drive families out of the Dales.”

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