Early years staff face financial pressure as wages drop

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Early years staff are now earning similar amounts to hairdressers after suffering a real-term pay loss of 5 per cent since 2013, reveals report.


According to the EPI's report, early years staff have experienced real term pay cuts of 5 per cent since 2013

According to the Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) new report on the early years workforce, despite being slightly more qualified than hairdressers and beauticians, real term pay cuts experienced by early years staff means that their pay per hour is now at very similar levels to workers in the two professions, who, in contrast, have experienced an increase to their hourly rate.

The Early Years Workforce in England report, which is based on findings from the Labour Force Survey, covers demographics of the workforce, qualifications and training and employment conditions.

Key findings include:

  • A large proportion of staff are struggling financially with more than 44 per cent claiming state benefits and tax credits.
  • There are continued difficulties with hiring staff, particularly well qualified staff that have full ‘Early Years Educator’ status.
  • Many workers are not undertaking further training, in part due to fewer opportunities provided by employers.
  • The number of men working in the childcare sector has increased – yet remains very low at 7 per cent
  • The sector is ageing and faces an increasingly uncertain future. 
  • In 2018, more than 37,000 EU nationals were working in childcare in England, totalling 5 per cent of all workers.

The EPI says that if the Government is serious about realising the ‘full potential of the early years workforce in providing high-quality early years education, and having the greatest impact on children’s outcomes, it must be serious about providing workers with dignity, status and the right opportunities.'


Its associate director of early years Dr Sara Bonetti said, ‘There is overwhelming evidence that high-quality childcare plays a vital role in the outcomes of a child’s life, with a skilled, qualified workforce absolutely central to delivering this.

‘This report should therefore concern parents who use childcare services, and the government, which regards high-quality early years education as crucial to social mobility. We find that the childcare workforce is poorly qualified and faces a number of recruitment problems - with many workers experiencing serious financial hardship.

‘While the Government has rightly recognised the importance of education in the early years, it must offer far more support to the three-quarters of a million workers in England who play an indispensable role in the care and development of our young children.’


Responding to the report, Voice the union has called for a ‘clear strategy and investment’ for the early years workforce.

General secretary Deborah Lawson said, ‘Voice has been warning of the recruitment and retention crisis in the early years sector, and this timely report provides more evidence of the factors behind that crisis.

‘The report shows that, at a time when we need more and more highly trained and better paid early years professionals, the trend is in the opposite and ‘wrong direction’, with falling wages and levels of training.

‘There is a clear and urgent need for the Government to implement the commitments to develop the workforce it made in its Early Years Workforce Strategy, and for a clear career pathway and national pay structure.’

Early Education

Chief executive Beatrice Merrick said, 'The EPI's report shows the false economy of paying low wages to the early years workforce, at a time when an increasingly high proportion of sector funding comes from Government. 

'Instead of having to top up low wages with tax credits and benefits, it could use the money to fund settings to pay higher wages that would bring in a more highly qualified workforce, and we know that has the potential to raise the quality of provision in a way that improves children's outcomes  and amply returns the original investment. 

The Government should be concerned by the signs in this report that show attempts to improve workforce quality are stalling and even going into reverse.  If it wants to meet its targets on social mobility, the evidence tells us that it needs to invest in the early years workforce and raise the quality of provision for the most disadvantaged children. 

'Government also needs to do more to promote a diverse workforce, to ensure the workforce represents the communities it serves, and to enable the sector draw from a wider pool of talent.'


Chief executive Liz Bayram said, 'This makes for depressing reading and reinforces all the concerns PACEY has consistently raised with Government over the years.

'Most disheartening of all, practitioners are being expected to take on more and more responsibility for early interventions that support children, especially our, most disadvantaged, to have the best start in life. PACEY members have told us that they love their job but could earn more as a dog walker. This cannot be right. Government’s and society’s attitude to the early years profession has to change.

'Government funding levels must increase and government needs to recognise the early years profession as equivalent to teaching in the same way that many other countries do. This is the only way we are going to stem the tide of reducing levels of qualified practitioners, of good people leaving the profession they love because they simply cannot afford to stay.'

Save the Children

Steven McIntosh, Save the Children’s director of UK policy, advocacy and campaigns, said, 'Childcare staff play a vital role in giving our little ones the best start in life, especially children living in poverty who are at greater risk of falling behind.

'But the Government is letting them down by ignoring a deepening crisis in the early years workforce. It must invest in the early years workforce and give them the recognition they deserve.


James Bowen, director of policy, said, 'This report confirms that the early years workforce is still predominantly female. It’s important for all children to experience positive male role models, and to understand that men can be interested in education and caring careers. We must work to improve status and pay for early years roles, to make it an attractive and competitive career for all.'

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said, 'We want every child to have the best start in life, with access to early education that sets them up to succeed later in life. The vast majority of early years providers - 95 per cent - are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, but there is always more to do. That’s why we are improving the training and professional development available to the early years workforce, including through our £20 million programme targeted at those working in more deprived areas.

'We continue to work closely with the sector to look for ways to increase diversity among early years staff, provide better career information and support, and develop new criteria for early years qualifications to improve their professional skills.'


  • For more on the report see the next issue of Nursery World, out on 21 January.
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