SDLP Jobs and Economy Spokesperson Sinéad McLaughlin has said a lack of affordable and accessible childcare has left many parents across the North unable to work.
Mrs McLaughlin said women and single parents were particularly affected, with the huge cost of childcare making it unviable for many to keep up a full-time job
She was speaking after data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed the UK has the third most expensive childcare system in the world, with 97% of parents surveyed saying childcare was too expensive.
Said the Foyle MLA: “The lack of affordable and accessible childcare in the North is stopping many parents from pursuing their careers as it simply makes no sense to work when almost all of their salary would then be spent on childcare.
“Where affordable childcare is available it is often overwhelmed by unprecedented demand.
“This has a huge knock-on effect in both our high unemployment and economic inactivity levels and particularly affects single parents who are left to carry the childcare responsibility on their own, especially if they have no support from family or friends.
“Barriers stopping parents from returning to work also have an impact on our economy, people want to be out earning a living, but are often forced to rely on welfare to get by while caring for their children.
“It also deprives our workforce of important skills, which are particularly needed as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.
“These problems are nothing new, the cost of childcare has been spiraling for years, yet we have seen little action to tackle this key issue.
“We need to see a joined-up approach from our Education, Economy and Communities ministers.
“There are a number of initiatives that could help tackle these issues, from breakfast and after school clubs to greater nursery provision.
“We need to do much more to support parents and other carers, who are nurturing the next generation. Without their work we will all be the poorer – literally.”