The Government has been criticised for its failure to respond to the Petitions Committee report with Catherine McKinnell MP, chair of the Petitions Committee, saying that she was ‘extremely disappointed that Government hasn’t recognised the urgency of this issue’.
The report, The impact of Covid-19 on maternity leave and parental leave, was in response to more than 226,000 people signed an e-petition raising concerns about the dangerous impact the pandemic is having on their children’s development and their own mental health. The petition called for the Government to extend maternity leave by three months with pay in light of Covid-19.
It highlighted the funding crisis faced by early years providers and called on the Government to conduct an urgent short-term review of funding for the childcare sector to ensure that there are sufficient childcare places for parents due to return to work.
It also recommended conducting an independent review of childcare provision, including lessons learned from the pandemic, to ensure the future sustainability of the sector.
The Committee received more than 69,000 responses to its online surveys and Facebook post, with people sharing their experiences and views on the Government’s response and on the actions they think need to be taken.
The Government has stated that a response to the report would not be possible before summer recess on 22 July due to the need for careful consideration of the recommendations and for discussion with counterparts in other relevant departments.
Ms McKinnell said, ‘Parents coming to the end of their leave are faced with a dreadful dilemma of having to prepare to return to work while they try to ensure that their child’s social and developmental needs are being met, at a time when finding suitable childcare is nearly impossible.
‘Our investigation found some parents have even had to give up their jobs because there has been no financially viable way to extend their leave. This is having a profound impact on the mental health and wellbeing of families. New parents need clarity now on what support the Government will provide for them in the midst of this pandemic – this can’t wait until the autumn.’
Children and families minister Vicky Ford has defended the funding of the early years sector during the coronavirus crisis, in an interview with Nursery World, published on Tuesday.
Asked why there had been no rescue plan or catch-up funding for the early years sector, the minister insisted that the sector had received 'significant' amounts of funding.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said that the Government’s failure to respond to the report ‘comes as no surprise’.
‘Throughout this crisis, despite the Government’s constant emphasis on the importance of ensuring that the economy is able to recover, the role that childcare plays in allowing parents to work and support this recovery has been completely overlooked.
‘With one in four nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in England fearing closure within the year, Government should be treating this issue as a top priority, not dragging its feet.
‘Without an urgent financial rescue package for the childcare sector, and a commitment to increased funding levels in the long term, the early years sector will simply not survive this crisis, and more and more parents will find themselves unable to access the childcare they need.’
Commenting on the delay, Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association emphasised that sustainability is a critical issue for childcare businesses right now.
‘The latest Department for Education figures suggest that only a quarter of children are attending early years settings in England which means their income is very low while their costs have risen. This is not a sustainable position for any business,’ she said.
‘NDNA has been calling on the Government to recognise this challenge and support the early years sector with increased costs related to keeping staff and children safe in their settings.
‘Childcare is vital for children’s development but also a foundation for the economy as people look to go back to workplaces. We will continue to campaign for a recovery and transformation fund for the sector which otherwise could see mass nursery closures, with 71 per cent expecting to make a loss for the next few months. Ministers also need to recognise the longer term issue, that inadequate funding rates for childcare places need to be addressed.’