Coronavirus: MPs call for emergency funding for childcare sector

Nicole Weinstein
Monday, July 6, 2020

MPs have called on the Government to conduct an urgent review into childcare funding, and commit to emergency funding for the sector, in a report which highlights 'the serious and unprecedented impact' of coronavirus on new parents and children.

Coronavirus has had 'an unprecedented impact' on new parents, the cross-party Petitions Committee report says
Coronavirus has had 'an unprecedented impact' on new parents, the cross-party Petitions Committee report says

Baby classes have been cancelled, support has been harder to access, and parents’ jobs are at risk because they have not been able to find childcare, the report from the House of Commons Petitions Committee said.

The cross-party committee considers e-petitions submitted on Parliament’s petitions website and public (paper) petitions presented to the House of Commons.

MPs held an inquiry in response to the e-petition started by Jessie Zammit and her husband James Zammit-Garcia signed by more than 226,000 people that calls for the Government to extend maternity leave by three months with pay in light of Covid-19.

The inquiry also uncovered 'many more issues on which we hope the Government will urgently consider further action, with or without an extension to paid parental leave', the report, The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leavepublished today (6 July), said.

It highlights the funding crisis faced by early years providers and calls on the Government to conduct an urgent short-term review of funding for the childcare sector to ensure that it survives the current crisis, and if required, provide emergency funding to the childcare sector to ensure that there are sufficient childcare places for parents due to return to work.

It also recommends conducting an independent review of childcare provision, including the lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure that future Government funding is effective and that the sector is sustainable and works for all in the long term.

The report says, 'Central to the challenges facing new parents is the uncertainty over access to childcare, whether families or formal providers. We call for the Government to review the provision of childcare to ensure it is sustainable and can be accessed by all who need it, and to provide urgent funding to ensure it can survive during the current pandemic.'

Commenting on the report, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said, 'We have long argued that an emergency financial package is needed to ensure that nurseries, pre-schools and childminders across England are able to survive this difficult period of low parental demand for childcare places.

'The Government has just announced a welcome rescue package for the arts sector - with one in four childcare providers fearing closure in the next year, there is simply no justification for not extending the same kind of support to the early years.

'A Government that lets the childcare sector fall by the wayside is not one that can claim to be in the side of working families. If ministers are serious about supporting parents to return to work, and to helping the economy recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, it simply cannot ignore this problem any longer.'

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, ‘For parents to be able to return to work they need to have access to high quality childcare. More than 100,000 people signed the petition we supported calling for emergency funding for nurseries, which clearly shows the depth of concern among parents and providers.

‘The report picked up on concerns highlighted in our evidence that childcare businesses had struggled with short notice on lockdown measures, the changes to the furlough scheme and unmet fixed costs and all of this took place against a backdrop of long-term underfunding.’

She added, ‘We have been calling for urgent investment in the sector through a recovery and transformation fund. It’s good news that the committee has recommended the Government look into the need for emergency funding for childcare providers. Lessons need to be learned from this crisis so we also welcome the recommendation of a review of long-term sustainability for providers. This has been made time and again by those working in early years, so it’s time Ministers acted on this.’

Isolation and lack of support for new parents was another area highlighted in the report.
Health visitors, professional and volunteer-led support groups and baby groups, which all play a crucial role in supporting new parents, were not available during the pandemic. A new mother said, ‘Access to my health visitor for weight and health checks hasn't been available which would normally provide me with reassurance of my baby's development.’

The MPs also call on the Government to extend parental leave and pay for all new parents affected by the pandemic. This includes maternity leave, shared parental leave and adoption leave. If the Government will not do this, then it must look at new ways, it says - such as the introduction of a hardship grant - to support those who are forced to take unpaid leave to care for children.

This is particularly the case for groups most affected, including parents of premature and sick babies, adoptive parents, single parents, and those who have been identified as suffering from mental health problems as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Tulip Siddiq MP, shadow minister for children and early years, said, 'Long-term Government underfunding left nurseries and childminding businesses on the brink of collapse even before this crisis hit, and thousands of providers now fear closure. 

'This call for an urgent review into funding for the childcare sector should spur the Government into action. It has been sleepwalking through this crisis and ignoring the warnings from parents and sector leaders.

'Labour has been warning for months of the dire consequences that early years providers will face without a concrete plan for funding and support in place. The Government must now step in before it is too late.'

 The Government has two months to respond to the report's recommendations. 

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