Half of parents say Government has not done enough on childcare access during pandemic

Annette Rawstrone
Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Nearly half of parents of children aged under five years old in England say Government has not done enough to support them to access the childcare they need during the pandemic, a survey has revealed.

Parents reported being made redundant after being unable to access childcare, or having to combine work and childcare in exhausting 18-hour shifts.

The Early Years Alliance, which conducted the research, is calling on the Government to provide an emergency rescue package for the childcare sector in England after it found that one in ten of the more than 2,000 respondents revealed that they have not been able to access formal childcare at all since the easing of lockdown. 

Roberta Mitchell, a mother of two early years children from Kettering, said: ‘People have been expected to go back to work without the required care in place or facing reduced hours. I had to ask my work to leave me on furlough as I wasn’t able to work my required hours with our pre-school only opening part-time. 

‘I have since been made redundant and I feel that my inability to return to work could have contributed to this.’

Victor Gazis, a father of two children from Exeter, said, ‘We are two parents working from home with a five-year-old on summer holidays and a three-year-old in nursery just two days a week. We have no other childcare options, so our sons are basically doing stuff on their own until we have a break. We start work at 6am, spend time with our sons in the afternoon, then work until 11-12pm.’

In fact, difficulties accessing childcare has had a negative impact on the work life of a third (34 per cent) of parents, the survey suggests. This tally rises to nearly a half (48 per cent) of parents who live in the most deprived local authority areas.

Over a quarter (27 per cent) said that difficulties accessing childcare since the easing of lockdown has had a negative impact on their mental health, rising to over a third (36 per cent) of parents living in the most deprived local authority areas.

Financial support

All early years settings in England have been allowed to open to all children from 1 June, however around a third of providers had not reopened ahead of the summer holidays, according to figures from the Department for Education (DfE).

In addition, many of the settings that have reopened have been forced to restrict sessions or reduce opening hours.

Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch says the Government ‘simply must provide greater financial support to the early years sector so that nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are able to keep their doors open’.

More than two million families in England have children aged under five, 87 per cent of whom normally use some form of formal childcare. But the survey found that four in 10 parents  are now taking up fewer hours per week than before lockdown, with 56 per cent saying that this is because their childcare provider has not been able to offer more hours.

Mr Letich called for an emergency rescue package for the childcare sector at the upcoming Spending Review, alongside a longer-term sustained increase in general funding levels.

Recent data from independent early years analysts Ceeda found that only 13 per cent of nurseries and pre-schools in England and 33 per cent of childminders expected to be operating at a profit by January next year.

Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, said the fact that Government were asking parents to return to work without sufficient childcare support was 'incompetent', adding 'the sector is on the brink of collapse after years of underfunding.'

Financial support provided by the Government during the pandemic includes continuing to pay local authorities for free early years entitlement places and providing a business rates holiday for many nurseries in England for the 2020-2021 tax year, while staff paid from private income were eligible for furlough. The DfE says it has provided £3.6 billion for the early years entitlement this year.

Children's minister Vicky Ford has defended coronavirus crisis funding for early years, saying 'The payment of the Government paid hours ...puts them ahead of every other sector of the economy'.

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