PARENTS are in despair after it has been revealed that childcare across South Essex is among the most expensive in the East of England.

Figures have revealed that the cost of childcare is one of the highest in the region, while parents are also seeing less choice over who can care for their children.

The average hourly fee charged by childcare providers for three and four year olds was £5.25 last year, according to the Department for Education, and mums across Basildon, Southend, and Canvey are frustrated at the higher than average prices.

One parent commented on the Echo Facebook page, stating she has had to give up her work as she could no longer afford for someone else to look after her children.

Lauren Smith, from Southend, said: “When I went back to work full time after having my daughter, it cost us £998 a month to have her in nursery.

“Our mortgage and council tax combined is £880 a month. How can it cost more to have strangers look after your kids than it does to keep a roof over a whole family’s heads?

“Because of this I had to drop down to part time and work three days a week.

“I’m currently on maternity leave with our second child and I’m not returning to work this time because we just cannot afford to have two kids in childcare even with the funding we now receive.

“It’s such a shame as I’ve worked ever since I left school.”

The £5.25 hourly rate was the same in Basildon and Castle Point, with the average price being 25p higher than across the East of England.

Fees across the East of England increased over 2019, rising from £5 the year before.

June Dillow also commented on the Echo Facebook page, added that even free family childcare can come with difficulties.

She said: “Often families turn to grandparents for help if they can. Its free childcare but as retirement age is further and further away, they have to work too.”

To add insult to injury, figures have revealed that Essex County Council underspent on early years education by £1.8million from 2018 to 2019. Southend Council also reported a £320,000 underspend during that time.

Anne Jones, Southend councillor for children and learning, said: “The council is committed to ensuring children in Southend have access to high quality care, whether that is privately funded care or general childcare arrangements.

“The council has no control over the costs of childcare, this is set by the childcare market.

“Many parents are eligible to 30 hours’ free childcare during term time, however with the number of care providers decreasing, the costs associated inevitably rise. Indeed Southend pass through 98% of the funds we receive to providers, compared to 95% nationally.

“The early years education underspend is mainly due to the way in which the Department for Education calculate the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). It is based on annual census information rather actual than take-up each term.

The underspend will be reinvested into the early years education. The remaining amount will be used to sustain, support and train high quality early years staff to provide services within Southend.

If any parents have any concerns over childcare, including the costs associated, they should contact”

A spokesman for Essex County Council said: "Essex County Council’s early years funding for three and four-year-old places was not underspent at the end of the last financial year.

"The £1.8million referred by the NDNA relates to an historic underfunding position for Essex, not an underspend.

"The amount paid to Essex County Council for the Free Early Education Entitlement (FEEE) is determined by the Department for Education (DfE).

"The DfE has a national funding formula, and the County Council is able to retain a maximum of 5% of the funding paid to it by the DfE. The remaining 95% is used to calculate the FEEE funding rates. This is the same for all Local Authorities.

"For the 2018-19 year, we retained the maximum 5% which we are entitled to do, which helped reduce the historic budget deficit caused by national underfunding."