MORE than two thirds of parents have struggled to pay for childcare in the past 12 months.

Research commissioned by the Scottish Government found 69 per cent of families with pre-school children had experienced difficulties footing the bill for nursery.

Analysis also suggested the recent expansion of childcare funding could benefit wealthier families more.

Parents are now entitled to 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare (ELC) a year, up from 475 hours before 2014 – with some children as young as two now also eligible.

But a Scottish Government report said fewer parents from poorer backgrounds pay for childcare – and when they do, they spend less.

Moreover, some of the benefits from the extra funding “may be offset by the withdrawal of working tax credits which are partially linked to childcare expenditure and to income”.

But it added: “Nonetheless, parents who pay for childcare in lower income groups on average spend a higher proportion of their income on childcare, and proportionately more of them report difficulties affording childcare.

“In addition, if parents with lower incomes use the increased ELC hours to start paid employment or work more hours, this could reduce the difference in average net financial benefits for parents in higher and lower income groups.”

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said it would be “of little surprise to many that two thirds of parents have struggled with the cost of childcare in the last year”.

He added: “Labour supports the extension of free childcare but we can see now from the government’s own report that the current expansion is primarily benefitting the better off, not those who are struggling.

“The truth is we will never be able to redress the difficulty parents have with childcare while the SNP government in Edinburgh is slashing council budgets.”

A survey of 10,526 parents and carers across Scotland found more than half who use their funded ELC entitlement also pay for childcare over and above this.

They spend an average of just under £500 a month – working out at between £3.87 and £4.45 an hour.

Meanwhile, more than half of funded childcare providers offer provision during school hours only, while less than a quarter open during school holidays.

The Scottish Government has committed to almost doubling the hours of funded childcare to 1,140 hours per year by 2020, in a bid to help disadvantaged children and support more parents into work, study or training.

Carolyn Lochhead, of the parent campaign group Fair Funding for our Kids, said nine out of ten funded nursery places are currently only for half days, “meaning parents have to make complicated and expensive arrangements for the other half of the day”.

She said: “Lots of parents are struggling with both the affordability and accessibility of childcare. We want councils to provide childcare that helps working parents.”

Purnima Tanuku OBE, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said parents across Scotland “continue to struggle to afford childcare”.

She added: “That is why the expansion of early years and childcare provision is so important and why the Scottish Government must get both delivery and funding for the expansion of provision right.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up and that means ensuring every child born here has an equal chance to succeed.

“To help us make this ambition a reality we are almost doubling the amount of funded childcare in Scotland for all three and four year olds from 600 hours to 1,140 hours so that all children, regardless of their background, get the same start in life.”