9 in 10 parents think early years sector underfunded - MPs' survey

Nicole Weinstein
Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The vast majority of parents think that the current level of funding for their nursery, pre-school or childminder is inadequate – and have raised concerns over their ability to work if the sector is not supported to remain financially sustainable.

Around three-quarters of parents said they would struggle if they could not access their early years setting
Around three-quarters of parents said they would struggle if they could not access their early years setting

The findings come from a survey conducted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Childcare and Early Education.

The cross-party group of parliamentarians’ online survey of more than 1,300 parents in England, carried out at the end of January, found that just 11 per cent of parents surveyed said that the financial settlement currently on offer to the early years sector was enough.

It also revealed concerns over the impact a lack of sector support could have on parents’ ability to work, with more than a third (36 per cent) saying that a loss of early years care and education would prevent them from being able to return to their physical place of work, highlighting the extent to which a lack of support for the early years could put the country’s economic recovery at risk.

When asked about the possible effect of being unable to access their early years setting, just under three quarters (72 per cent) of respondents said they would struggle with work-life balance, while nearly half feared it would lead to a potential loss of income (47 per cent) or cause them to lose out on vital career progression (45 per cent).

The majority (90 per cent) of survey respondents were women, which raises concerns that any underfunding of the sector could unfairly penalise the female workforce, should providers be forced to close.

Vital for children's development

The value that parents place on their child’s early years setting was also looked at in the survey, with 97 per cent agreeing that providers had a ‘significant impact on the learning, social and emotional development of their child’.

Just 36 per cent of parents felt that the Government was providing sufficient financial support for parents and carers with children under five, while 91 percent agreed that early years professionals should be paid on similar pay scales to school teachers.

The APPG hopes these results will help guide the Government towards providing vital extra support to the early years sector, as the country emerges from lockdown, and to carry out a full review of early years funding to ensure a sustainable funding model for the sector.

APPG chair, Steve Brine MP, said that early years professionals have worked ‘tirelessly’ to minimise the negative effects on the learning and social development of children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He added, ‘The APPG on Childcare and Early Education is calling on the Government to hold a comprehensive review of early years policy to identify reforms, including to funding streams. The sector is crying out for help to continue doing its vital job in both supporting children and helping their parents return to work and help rebuild our economy.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted what we already knew, that high quality early years education and care is absolutely vital for children’s development as well as enabling parents to work.

This new research shines a light on parents’ concerns about their own children’s nurseries and the impact on families if settings were unable to remain open due to Government underfunding.

It’s clear from these responses that parents really value high quality care for their children but are worried that the Government does not value [them] enough to pay for providers rates that even cover their running costs.

‘If the Government is serious about levelling up and supporting the country’s economic recovery, they need to make sure they are properly funding early education and childcare so nurseries can continue their vital work and be there for parents when they need them.’

Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said that while there was no doubt that the Covid-19 crisis has had a hugely detrimental impact on the early years sector,  many of the financial difficulties that nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are currently facing existed ‘long before’ the pandemic.

He added, ‘We in the sector have long argued that these challenges are a direct result of sustained Government underfunding, and as these results show, parents are well aware of this too, with the vast majority recognising that the government’s support for early years providers is not enough for them to remain financially viable.

‘Even with the recent shift towards home working, as the survey findings demonstrate, a functioning early years sector remains critical to the ability of parents to return to their workplaces and progress in their careers. It's therefore clear that government must prevent further early years closures if it is to ensure that the economy as a whole is able to recover post-pandemic.

‘The Government cannot continue to drag its feet on this issue: we need an urgent review of early years funding to enable providers to deliver quality, affordable and sustainable services both now and in the future. If the government wants to make sure parents can continue to work and that every child is able to benefit from high-quality early education and care, then investing in the sector that can deliver both is surely the obvious choice.’

James Bowen, director of policy at school leaders’ union NAHT, said, 'This Government has repeatedly claimed that the early years is a priority when it comes to educational recovery, and yet what we see is a sector in a financially perilous position.

'The closure of nurseries could have a devastating effect on children, families and local communities. As the Government looks at how best to support educational recovery, now is the time to properly invest in early years education and to protect nurseries.'

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said, 'The majority of parents who used formal childcare before the pandemic told us they would continue to do so as lockdown restrictions eased, which is testament to the hard work of this important sector. We are increasing the hourly funding rates paid to councils for the delivery of high quality, free childcare places – this will pay for a rate increase that is higher than the costs nurseries may have faced from the increase to the national living wage this month.

'In total we have spent over £3.5 billion in each of the past three years to support these offers, and over one million disadvantaged two year olds have benefitted from the 15 hours free childcare that we introduced. As part of our £700 million package to provide extra support to children who need it as they return to the classroom, we have invested £18 million to support language development in the early years.'

The APPG for Childcare and Early Education will be holding a public virtual meeting to unveil the findings of this survey at 3pm today. The meeting will include a presentation by Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive, Working Families.

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