THE crippling cost of childcare is forcing many women to give up their jobs or only work part-time.
The Irish Independent today reveals the extent of the squeeze on families, with many caught in a trap where it doesn't pay for both parents to work.
But if they give up their jobs they may find it impossible to re-enter the workforce at the same level again.
Our survey found that women in Ireland are paying as much as €15,000
a year to have just one child minded. But women earn an average of €29,400 a year – leaving them with €2,000 a month after tax and other deductions.
That means that mothers with more than one child could be handing over all their earnings to someone else to mind their children.
As the Government prepares to tax maternity benefit for the first time in July, we reveal new research showing one in four companies in Ireland have cut back on paid maternity leave in recent years.
The cost of childcare has sparked concerns on a European scale, that the vast majority of women here cannot afford to work full-time because creche fees are so expensive.
The Government is now under pressure to do more to help struggling families who are desperate to cling to their jobs.
The crisis facing many women in the workplace is laid bare as:
* Some 83pc of Irish women told Eurostat that childcare was too expensive here, compared to 50pc across all 27 EU member states.
* Our own survey reveals that a full-time creche place costs from €715 to €1,260 per month per child.
* The OECD estimates that childcare costs in Ireland are 29pc of family net income, more than double the OECD average of 13pc.
* The number of women of working age who have a job has fallen from 60pc in 2008, down to 55pc in 2012, the latest Central Statistics Office figures show.
"Despite the evidence of the barriers women face, the Government is not making life any easier," said Orla O'Connor, Director of National Women's Council of Ireland.
"Clearly a significant shift is needed in Irish society – where we invest in quality affordable childcare services."
Eurostat researchers asked 46,400 Irish women aged 25 to 49 why they didn't work or only worked part-time – and 83pc said it was because of the costs of childcare.
Our own survey of childcare costs reveals the extent of that expenditure, with some parents complaining that it was costing more than a mortgage.
Over a year, parents will pay between €8,500 to €15,100 to put a single child in creche care.
And while childminding is sometimes seen as the cheaper option, research by Childminding Ireland found that the average cost of full-time care is now €154 per child each week.
This adds up to almost €8,000 per year and can spiral as high as €11,000.
However there is a wide variance in the fees being charged around the country with parents in Kildare paying €214 a week, while in Dublin it costs €184 per week.
The annual costs could be slightly less where childminders don't get holiday pay, though one third said they do receive it and two thirds said they get it if parents take holidays at a different time of the year.
Most childminders also offer a sibling discount ranging from 10pc to 50pc, while creches typically offer a sibling discount of around 10pc.
But the taxman is about to start dipping into state maternity benefit for the first time. A tax on this payment from July 1 will cost new mothers €15m this year and €40m in 2014.
Working mothers will pay an average of €800 each in tax on maternity benefit in the Budget move, which Michael Noonan said would correct an anomaly where some mothers paid less income tax than when they were working.
But it comes at the worst time for working women – as employers cut back on the amount they pay in top-ups to those on maternity leave.