A CHILDREN’S charity claim parents in the town are being ‘locked out’ of work by expensive rates for childcare after new figures revealed costs have spiralled in recent years.

The government made expanding free childcare a key pledge in last year’s budget, in a drive to help parents back into work.

Currently, parents earning below £100,000 can claim 30 hours of free care for children aged three or four - but this will expand to two-year-olds from April.

New estimates from the Department for Education suggest parents in Barnsley were paying £4.85 an hour in 2023 to have their two-year-olds looked after - less than the England average of £6.07.

For children aged three and four, childcare cost parents in the area £4.83 an hour, below an average of £5.90 for this age group.

The Department for Education surveyed 41 childcare providers for two-year-olds in Barnsley and 42 for those aged three and four.

Ellen Broome, managing director of Coram Family and Childcare, said high costs have been an issue for many years.

She said: “At a time when family budgets are under extreme pressure, the cost of childcare is making it near impossible for families to increase their income by working more hours.

“And too many parents, particularly mothers, are effectively locked out of work as they can’t make the sums add up.

“High quality childcare is key social infrastructure.

“It helps parents work and narrows the gap between poorer children and their more affluent peers.”

She welcomed the expansion of free care this spring - but said bringing prices down and making it accessible will be key, particularly when it comes to helping disadvantaged children.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics show employment rates among young parents - particularly mothers - are significantly lower than their peers.

As of 2021, just under half of mothers with a child aged two or younger were in work, rising to just 55 per cent for those with a toddler aged three to four.

A Department for Education spokesperson said their plans could save eligible parents £6,500 per year, on average.

They added: “We want to ensure eligible families can benefit from this transformative offer as soon as possible, while ensuring parents and providers are prepared.

“That is why the first stage of the new offer will start in April, and working parents can register for a place now.

“More widely we are providing an average £3,700 per household in cost of living support between 2022 and 2025, and for parents on Universal Credit, we have already increased by almost 50 per cent - the maximum amount they can claim back in childcare costs.”