Childcare sector at risk as parents plan to keep children at home – survey

Aine Fox, PA

Less than half of parents are planning to take up their childcare place on Monday, according to a survey, leading to a warning that the future of the early years sector in England is at risk without adequate Government support.

More than two-thirds of providers expect to operate at a loss in the next six months, the research found.

The most common reasons cited by parents for not sending their children back were the safety of the young person, their wider family and the staff, the Early Years Alliance said.

While just 45% said they are planning to take up their child’s place, one in five of them said they intend to use less hours than they did previously, the survey found.

More than three quarters (79%) of parents said they would not send their child back until there had been a sustained fall in the number of coronavirus cases across the country, more than half (58%) said they needed more information from the Government on the science behind the decision to reopen, and 55% said they would need a sustained fall in the number of cases in the local area.

The alliance, which represents nurseries, pre-schools and childminders, surveyed 4,490 parents and 6,300 providers online in May on their views on plans for childcare settings to reopen in June.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of providers said they planned to reopen more widely from the beginning of June, but half of all those surveyed said they expect demand to be less than the number of places they can safely provide.

An empty classroom at Manor Park School and Nursery in Knutsford, Cheshire (Martin Rickett/PA)

Looking ahead to the next six months, 69% of settings said they expect to operate at a loss while a quarter (26%) expect to break even.

In terms of Government support, 70% of providers said they want clearer Government guidance on operating safely, 67% want a guarantee of continuation of early entitlement funding for children not attending and 63% said they wish to see financial support for coronavirus-related operating costs, such as cleaning.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: “With most childcare providers limited as to how many children they can care for safely, and many predicting that parental demand for places will be lower still, many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are going to face a real struggle for survival during this incredibly difficult period.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the very future of the childcare sector is at risk if the Government doesn’t get its act together and provide the support that providers need.”

He said it is “vital” the Government takes steps to safeguard the future of the early years sector.

Mr Leitch said: “That means not only providing the clear, unambiguous reassurance that parents – and providers – need to feel confident that it is safe for children to return to childcare, but crucially, committing to a significant financial support package to help ensure that childcare providers are able to stay afloat throughout this challenging period and beyond.”

Judith Blake, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Having enough childcare places will be essential to support families and get the economy moving again as emergency measures are eased.

“It is therefore vital that the Government urgently provides additional funding at a national level to ensure early years providers can remain open.”

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford praised early-years providers for their “heroic efforts” throughout the pandemic.

She said: “We have been working very closely with the sector as we move towards wider opening and the welfare of children and staff is at the heart of all considerations.”