A quarter of nurseries and childminders in deprived areas of England say they will not get by beyond Christmas without additional income, according to a survey.
The poll by the Early Years Alliance (EYA) found that low demand for places and inadequate government support during the Covid pandemic could result in mass closures of childcare facilities.
Overall about one in six providers said they could close by Christmas, and just over half said they would require emergency funding to stay open over the next six months. Nearly two-thirds said the government had not provided adequate support during the coronavirus crisis, and only a quarter expected to make any profit between now and March.
Mumsnet’s CEO and founder, Justine Roberts, said that without affordable childcare some parents would be unable to work, and she called on the government to intervene as a matter of urgency.
“This has been a disastrous nine months for maternal employment and women have also borne the brunt of school and nursery closures during lockdown,” she said. “Many families just will not be able to cope without nurseries and early years settings.”
The poll of 2,000 childcare providers found an average fall of 21% in occupancy levels compared with last year. The government says it is supporting the sector by “bulk-buying” early years places, but the EYA says in many cases the money is not reaching the frontline.
Neil Leitch, the EYA chief executive, said many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders were reaching the point of no return. “There is absolutely no excuse for the government’s continued indifference towards the early years sector,” he said. “It claims that children’s access to education during the pandemic is a top priority, and yet it is apparently perfectly happy to see thousands of early education providers fall by the wayside.”
Michelle Angus of CheekieChops Childminding, based in Sunderland, said: “I childmind children from six months old to 12 years old. In March, I had 45 children on my books, but today I have 18. I have just done my accounts and have lost three-quarters of income compared with this time last year. I have had to end the employment of one assistant and reduce the hours of other assistants already.”
Sharon Brayer, the manager of Busy Bees in New Milton, Hampshire, said: “Busy Bees has been running for 28 years and we do not know how much longer we will be open. New children have not taken up their places. We lost money during lockdown and still are. Staff are suffering with mental health issues. If we had more financial support to sustain us, it would be one less thing to worry about.”
The EYA is calling for an emergency early years sufficiency fund for childcare providers at risk of closure, which the research analysts Ceeda estimate would cost £240m over the next six months.
A Department for Education spokesperson said nurseries, pre-schools and childminders had already received significant financial support over the past months and would further benefit from the government’s 2020/1 funding package of £3.6bn for free early education and childcare places.
Judith Blake, the chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “It is essential that we have enough childcare places to support families to ensure the country can recover from Covid-19, both economically and socially.”
Tulip Siddiq, the shadow minister for children and early years, said Labour had been saying for months that the childcare sector was on the brink of collapse.
“Today we learn that this collapse is now imminent and set to begin just as families enter the toughest winter for a generation. As ever, this will hit the most deprived communities hardest,” she said.
“Urgent action is needed by the government to save the nurseries and childminders that working parents and children rely on. It is now or never to save the childcare sector, and it has to be now for the sake of our economy.”