Many families rely on childcare to enable them to work. Protecting and creating jobs is dependent on parents being able to access childcare, so it’s hard to see how our economy can properly recover from Covid-19 without it. Yet, despite a growing crisis in the early years sector that threatens thousands of nurseries and childminders, there wasn’t a single mention of childcare in the chancellor’s mini-budget last week.
A quarter of all childcare providers think it unlikely that their business will survive this crisis. If their fears are realised, a whopping 19,000 childcare providers could be lost forever. This will have terrible consequences for the economy, working families and disadvantaged children who need early years education.
With most children at home for the last few months, millions of furloughed workers have been looking after their children full-time. Many others have been juggling working from home and childcare. Now that the furlough scheme is being wound down and businesses are starting to expect employees to return to work in full, parents’ jobs will depend on access to childcare.
The availability and affordability of childcare was poor before the pandemic, with rising fees year after year and hundreds of providers forced to close every month. Providers that managed to survive years of underfunding then faced a monumental hit to their finances in lockdown, and now, with just 25 per cent of children back, their incomes are still very low. If current occupancy levels continue for a year, there will be a 57 per cent funding gap for every two-year-old place funded by the government.
If this situation continues we are likely to see mass childcare closures. Three quarters of providers surveyed in April felt that the government hadn’t provided enough support for the sector. There has been no further support announced since then. Early years was cut out of the government’s Covid-19 “catch-up” funding, and, unlike schools, childcare providers can’t even claim back the costs for coronavirus safety measures such as additional cleaning and staffing.
Tulip Siddiq is Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and shadow minister for children and early years.