Scottish childcare costs 'a route to poverty'
The cost of childcare in Scotland is a "route to in-work poverty" for many parents, according to a report.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said the average cost of putting a child aged between two and five in nursery for 25 hours a week was £5,307 a year.
This represented a rise of 8.2% in the past year, it said.
CAS called on the Scottish government to help working families by ensuring affordable childcare was available across the country.
The Scottish Parliament passed legislation earlier this year to increase the amount of free childcare from 475 hours a year to 600 hours a year for three and four-year-olds, as well as for disadvantaged two-year-olds.
Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to further increase free entitlement if she is re-elected as first minister in the next Holyrood election as part of efforts to ensure every child - regardless of their background - is given the best opportunity in life.
The CAS report said the average cost of placing a child under the age of two in nursery for 25 hours a week was £5,514 a year.
It said: "The increase to 600 hours of free early education will be of benefit to some working parents, but would only cover six months of the year at 25 hours per week, estimated to be the typical amount that a parent working part time might require, so will not cover full costs."
It added that evidence from Citizens Advice Bureau clients had shown that "for working parents the costs of childcare can be a route to in-work poverty".
"Despite the increase in the statutory guarantee of hours, a number of issues remain which must be tackled to ensure that Scotland's children get the best start in life and their families can avoid poverty through work," the report.
The CAS report said parents in Scotland currently spend an average of 27% of their household income on childcare, compared with an average of 12% across OECD countries.
And it said childcare provision was reported to be "particularly inadequate" in many rural areas.
The advice charity called on the Scottish government and local councils to "work together to ensure that suitable, affordable childcare is provided for working parents in all areas of Scotland".
The Scottish government should also consider the possibility of introducing a statutory right to childcare, it suggested.
And it said the UK government should look at giving parents on zero-hours contracts a statutory right to request guaranteed hours to ease the difficulty of organising childcare.
Citizens Advice Scotland policy manager Keith Dryburgh said: "Childcare isn't working for far too many families in Scotland. And many parents who want to work are unable to do so because they can't get childcare.
"The most frequently cited problems we see are the huge costs. But lack of availability is also a problem in many areas. This is particularly acute in rural and remote areas, but is felt across the whole country.
"These issues of cost and availability are the two big, preventative barriers that stop parents from getting back to work."
Mr Dryburgh said the UK government should also do more through the tax and benefits system to "help ease the burdens that working parents feel".
"Just as important, however, we are also calling on employers to make sure they are offering the right employment policies to suit working families," he said.
These policies should include flexible working conditions and more consideration when fixing rotas and shifts, which he said could make a "huge difference" to parents when arranging childcare.
Mr Dryburgh added: "Many employers already do this but we urge more to follow their lead and help their staff manage this difficult situation."
Aileen Campbell, the Minister for Children and Young People, said: "We agree that childcare costs are considerable outlay for most families and that is why we have already expanded annual funded early learning and childcare for three and four-year-olds to almost 16 hours per week and also extended this to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds.
"The first minister has also outlined our ambition to increase early learning and childcare provision by the end of the next parliament from 16 hours a week to 30 hours a week.
"Within the resources available to the Scottish Parliament we are investing £329m in this expansion over the next two years - with more than 120,000 children set to benefit over this school year - helping improve educational and other social outcomes while supporting parents to return to work and training."