Parents are being left without childcare as thousands of providers close.
The overall number of childcare providers in England dropped by around 4,000 between March 2021 and March 2022, the largest decline since 2016, according to figures from Ofsted.
Campaign Group Pregnant Then Screwed said it had been “inundated” with messages from parents who said their nurseries were closing.
Orest Bakhovski, from Uxbridge, north west London, said he and his wife must find a new nursery by January after their local council-run facility in Hillingdon announced it would be closing at the end of December.
The father of two children, aged three and eight months, said things were made harder because there were already insufficient places, with just six places available and a waiting list of 18 for the year at the nursery they are now having to leave.
The 35-year-old manager at a telecoms company said: “I think for a lot of parents it’s quite a lot of stress because, outside of just purely the cost argument, it’s a scramble to find a nursery place and maybe more so other parents than us, but it’s a real debate about ‘actually do both partners continue working or just one partner stay at home?'”
He added it was a “slap in the face” against the backdrop of the current cost-of-living crisis and that parents and carers have launched a petition to keep the nursery open.
A report to Hillingdon Council said three early years centres were recommended for closure as they were operating at a £532,000 loss “despite several attempts to improve their viability” and that “the wider early years market can absorb the provision directly provided by the council”.
Pregnant Then Screwed chief executive Joeli Brearly told the PA news agency parents across the country were “in a real mess” and the situation was a “nightmare” for providers, who are also facing a “staffing crisis”.
She said her organisation had been trying to help by giving parents advice on how to make flexible working requests.
She added: “It’s a lack of government funding that’s creating this problem.”
Many parents living in England with children between three and four years old can currently get 30 hours of free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year.
Neil Leitch, chief executive at the Early Years Alliance, the largest and most representative early years organisation in England with 14,000 members, said the early years sector was “facing a staff and recruitment crisis on a scale that we have not seen before” as well as “skyrocketing costs and insufficient funding”.
He added: “This means that early years providers are being forced to turn parents away because they do not have enough staff to take on more children and in some cases are even having to close because they have lost so many members of their team.
“For years we have been warning that without urgent action the early years sector would be left in crisis, putting huge pressure on families, and sadly this is becoming a reality.”
Mr Leitch accused the Government of “wasting time” looking at relaxing staff to child ratios and called for a “clear strategy”.
Labour has hit out at the Conservative government, accusing it of “deliberate underfunding”.
Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Under the Conservatives, childcare has become unavailable and unaffordable. Another 4,000 providers have closed over the last year in a blow to parents juggling work and childcare.
“The Conservatives’ deliberate underfunding of their ‘free’ childcare hours is forcing providers to cross-subsidise by charging parents more for extras and additional hours.
“Many providers are still operating at a loss or have been forced to close their doors for good, leaving families without access to the childcare they need. The Tories are failing our children.”
Despite the decrease in the number of providers the number of childcare places has remained broadly stable since August 2015, according to Ofsted.
A Government spokesperson said £4 billion had been spent in each of the past five years to support families with the cost of childcare.
They added: “We know there are challenges facing the sector, which is why we are increasing funding to support employers with their costs, investing millions in better training for staff working with pre-school children and have set out plans to help providers run their businesses more flexibly.
“This includes plans to support more childminders into the market by reducing upfront costs.”