One in six nurseries and childminders ‘could close by Christmas’ due to Covid

By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·3-min read

One in six nurseries and childminders fear they could close by Christmas if their income does not rise, according to a survey.

More than a quarter (26%) of early years settings in the most deprived local authorities could be forced to shut permanently over the winter due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the report said.

A sustained fall in demand for places, combined with not enough Government support, could lead to mass childcare closures in England, the Early Years Alliance (EYA) warned.

A survey of more than 2,000 nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in October found that 17% of settings did not believe they will remain viable over the next three months if they have the same income.

Just over half (51%) said they would need emergency funding to stay open over the next six months – and only a quarter expected to make any profit between now and March.

Nearly two in three (65%) said the Government has not provided enough support for the early years sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The EYA is calling for a £240 million emergency Early Years Sufficiency Fund targeted at providers at risk of closure to ensure there are enough places for families across the country.

On average, early years providers have seen a 21% fall in occupancy levels compared with this time last year – despite being allowed to open to more children since June.

Ann Ross, a former childminder based in Dartford, said: “I was devastated when the Covid pandemic, something I could never have planned for, totally decimated and wiped out my business. I went from being full with no expected vacancies available till September 2021, to having no children on roll.

“I have not earned any income since February 2020 and had to cash in my small pension to pay my bills.”

Sharon Brayer, 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.

“Poor funding is the main reason, and adding Covid into the mix has left us with serious financial difficulties. That in itself is soul-destroying, then you add in the worries every day about the virus – it has left us worried, scared, stressed and not knowing how we can financially recover.”

Figures released by the Department for Education (DfE) suggest around 770,000 children are attending early years childcare settings – around 59% of the number who usually attend in term time.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the EYA, said: “With demand for places still significantly below what would typically be expected, and no sign of things returning to normal any time soon, many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are reaching the point of no return.

“Worse still, our survey shows that it is those early years settings providing vital care and education to families in the most deprived areas – who are already bearing the brunt of the impact of the pandemic – that are most at risk.

“There is absolutely no excuse for the Government’s continued indifference towards the early years sector. 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.”

Justine Roberts, founder and chief executive of Mumsnet, said: “Many families just will not be able to cope without nurseries and early years settings. The Government must act urgently to secure the future of childcare in the UK.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Nurseries, preschools and childminders have received significant financial support over the past months and will benefit from a planned £3.6 billion funding package in 2020-21 for free early education and childcare places.

“We are providing extra stability and reassurance to settings that are open by ‘block-buying’ childcare places for the rest of this year at the level we would have funded before coronavirus – regardless of how many children are attending.”