Childcare report highlights Covid impact

A new childcare report shows how Covid has increased inequality around access and affordability.

Child playing with toys whilst in chilcare

 

Childcare inequalities and disadvantage have been exacerbated through the pandemic, with those families and children from more disadvantaged backgrounds who are most likely to benefit from early years education being least likely to be able to access or use it, according to a new report.

The  Essential but undervalued: early years care and education during Covid report by the Childcare during Covid study from the University of Leeds suggests that ‘levelling up’ will require urgent and sustained investment in early years, given that the pandemic intensified long-term issues around childcare affordability.

It also found that working mothers were more likely than working fathers to say that access to childcare during the pandemic impacted on their ability to work ‘as usual’ in both the first and second lockdown. Twice as many women as men said that difficulty accessing childcare in the second lockdown was affecting their career progression (31.8% compared to 15.2%). Parents (and particularly mothers) also reported a substantial, sustained and ongoing negative impact on their wellbeing and mental health throughout the pandemic and on their children’s development and wellbeing. The report says early years education will play an essential role in the catch-up and recovery for children under five.

The report also charted the impact on childcare providers, saying the financial impact of the pandemic may lead to the closure of some settings, “but even for those that stay open there is evidence that it is negatively affecting the quality of provision”. The report says the pandemic has exacerbated issues around workload, feeling neglected in policy terms and recruitment and retention challenges, with morale being very low.

It also highlights issue around lack of sick pay and the fact that most childminders now have a lower income than
before the pandemic, with income loss during Covid-19 likely to have placed a substantial proportion of childminders below the poverty line. It says 32% of childminders earned less than £10,000 in 2020/21. Many resorted to measures including using personal savings (38.5%), selling personal belongings (21.6%) and relying on their partners’ income (33%). Older childminders are more likely to be considering leaving the sector, taking with them substantial experience. The same is true of nannies, with older nannies most likely to have reduced their hours and income. Use of Universal Credit amongst nannies peaked during 2020 and then reduced in 2021, but remains almost three times higher than before the pandemic.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including calling on the Government to make the money it gives childcare settings for ‘free’ childcare sufficient to cover the actual cost of places and to review this annually. It further calls for the 30 hours free childcare to be available to all three year olds and for 52 weeks a year.

Other recommendations include a call for a recruitment campaign, sustainable and progressive career paths, delinking some of nurseries’ funding from child numbers to enable them to deal with volatility, recognition of early years workers as critical workers and access to statutory sick pay from day one of work, in line with the living wage.



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