Childcare is one of the main concerns for employees as Covid restrictions relax, according to a survey by People Management
. It says 46 per cent of HR professionals and senior leaders say childcare is a big worry while 21 per cent say employees are worried about other caring responsibilities if they have to return to the office.
This is in part due to ongoing anxiety about bubble closures and the impact on people’s ability to work. Another growing concern is availability of childcare, including wraparound childcare.
A committee hearing in Parliament yesterday also highlighted worries about childcare, particularly for jobseekers and those who have been furloughed, including concerns about rising costs as well as childcare provider closures
While childcare providers have highlighted
what the Government can do to ease the pressure, the committee heard of how employers might also help. One issue is helping with upfront childcare fees and deposits. The Greater London Authority launched a childcare deposit loan scheme
to help employees with these costs a few years ago. Paying upfront fees and deposits is a considerable barrier for parents looking to return to work and the scheme is a creative way of helping in a very practical way.
Childcare providers are also considering how to respond to changing work patterns, including more hybrid working, meaning on-site nurseries, particularly those attached to workplaces in city centres, might see lower demand while movement of families out of bigger cities might increase demand elsewhere.
What we have learned from Covid is how much childcare is part of the essential infrastructure needed for people to stay in and get back to work. So far it doesn’t seem that the Government is minded to give the sector much priority which will put more onus on employers to help employees, either through schemes like the one above, through lobbying the Government to take childcare more seriously or through more flexible working. Part-time jobs have suffered particularly during the pandemic, but they are often what make the whole working family thing sustainable, especially for single parents.
In the meantime, there are signs that informal care is on the rise, but that just generally spreads the unpaid childcare burden across different women – grandmothers, aunties, friends… – further increasing the gender pay gap and the demand for part-time work as it means women have to reduce their paid hours. And, of course, many people don’t have access to a network of family living nearby. At the same time many sectors are having difficulty recruiting staff. Urgent action needs to be taken to tackle the issues that prevent people having greater choice about the kind of work they can do or whether they can work at all.