• A survey from pensions firm Penfold suggests that the average daily rate for childcare in NI is lower than most of the UK
  • The company stated that Northern Ireland is therefore one of the cheapest regions without taking into account other factors
  • England, Scotland and Wales have significant government-funded childcare options that aren’t available here – and local wages are also relatively low

On 11 March, Belfast Live posted on its Facebook page that:

“Northern Ireland has been named as one of the cheapest regions in the UK for childcare costs according to a new study”

This claim is based on research findings from digital pensions provider Penfold.

Penfold’s survey results suggest that the average day rate of a childcare place in Northern Ireland is cheaper, compared with elsewhere in the UK. However, the study doesn’t properly account for extra support available in other parts of the UK that reduces the cost for many families.

Extra support is generally more substantial in England, Wales and Scotland than it is in Northern Ireland – while wages in NI are also relatively low.

Failure to fully consider the wider context means the claim is unreliable.

Interpretation of findings

Penfold’s research states: “The cheapest nation to put your child into nursery was Wales, with an average of £46.46 per day and £929.38 per month.”

And, while it is not mentioned in their online study, Penfold’s press release sent to media in NI said that “Northern Ireland is one of cheapest [places to have a child, with regards to childcare].”

Those statements are based on the figures in this table:

Figure 1 – Source: Penfold’s study

These findings indicate that average childcare prices in Northern Ireland are only slightly more expensive than in Wales, and far cheaper than in England or Scotland.

However, that does not mean that NI’s childcare is amongst the cheapest in the UK for parents and guardians, because this fails to take into account the wider help that is available, and the fact that the economic context in each country is different. Wages in Northern Ireland are relatively low, compared with other parts of the UK.

Lack of context

Each part of the UK has different levels and models of extra support available for people paying for childcare.

Currently, in England, Scotland and Wales working families are entitled to 30 hours free childcare per week for children aged three and four. This does not apply in Northern Ireland.

From September 2024, this will be expanded to all eligible children between the ages of nine months old and five years old. As things stand, this will not apply in Northern Ireland either. Early education – including childcare – is a devolved area of policy, and Stormont is currently in a state of collapse.

There is also no guarantee that any extra public funds available as a result of expansion to 30-hour provision elsewhere in the UK will be ring fenced specifically for childcare.

Parents and guardians in NI can currently access some assistance with childcare, but not on the same scale as elsewhere in the UK. The Pre-School Education Programme for 3-4 year olds offers at least 12.5 hours placement in early education per week for 38 weeks in the year.

Although Penfold’s research does mention that there are different types of support for in different parts of the UK, it does not take this into account when declaring which parts of the UK are cheapest – or most expensive – for childcare.

Penfold’s study did also acknowledge that wages in Northern Ireland are lower, and the company’s press release notes that it used figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) to compare pay here with elsewhere in the UK. However, this was also not taken into account when saying NI was one of the cheapest UK regions for childcare.

Wider methodology

Penfold spoke with around 800 day nurseries across the UK, in order to estimate average prices.

It is not clear how many of those were in Northern Ireland, which casts some doubt on how representative of the local childcare sector their calculations are.