There’s a vicious childcare cycle going on – some parents not sending their kids, reducing revenue and meaning more nursery closures or reduced hours/meaning those parents who need childcare to work are not getting it. Childcare needs to be more central and it needs a total overhaul.
We seem to be in a vicious childcare circle: many parents are still worried about putting their kids in nursery etc while the possibility of a second or more spikes is still there, meaning nurseries and the like are facing financial disaster because they cannot reopen unless they know there will be enough children to make it worthwhile, meaning many parents have no childcare and are in danger of losing their jobs/have lost their jobs or are on the point of collapse from exhaustion. Even those who have been able to save up enough annual leave to have a holiday this year will be finding it difficult to relax as they try to stay ahead of local outbreaks and the potential for quarantine restrictions to be imposed.
With regard to job loss and exhaustion, it is clear from all the research that parents of younger children – and those with special needs – are having the most difficult working managing working and childcare. And when I say parents, the research suggests that, most particularly for younger children, it is women who are taking on the bulk of this double shift. An Office for National Statistics report out last week showed that, in households with a child aged under five years, women did on average 78% more childcare than men.
So what can be done to break this vicious circle in the absence of a Covid-19 vaccine? There have been many calls for some sort of financial bail-out for childcare providers to prevent them from closing altogether in recognition that, once lost, there is a huge long-term cost for the economy if parents – and it will be women mainly – can’t get back to work. Families these days depend on two incomes to pay the rent, the mortgage and just the general bills; shops, restaurants and the like need families to have the means to go out and spend; and that is not to mention the social and health consequences of widescale inter-generational poverty.
Yet despite all the urgent calls for the Government to recognise the centrality of childcare for women’s employment in particular there has been, since the beginning of the crisis, a complete failure to listen from the powers that be. You have to ask why. What do Cabinet people do for childcare? Do they all have nannies or do their partners – in large part women – take care of all of that side of things? Does childcare occupy a single second of their daily lives? Has it ever?
How can you claim to respect and indeed love women if, by your actions, you deny them the same options as men? How can you be a loving father, uncle, brother, partner and fail to enable choice?
It’s not enough to just bung some money to childcare providers to get them through the next months, however, although that is the immediate and urgent problem. This crisis has highlighted the need for a complete overhaul of our attitudes to childcare. So many parents rely on grandparents for childcare and a large part of that is because of the horrendous cost of childcare in this country, far higher than our European neighbours. That cost already forces parents – mainly women – to make very difficult choices, particularly if their earnings are less than monthly childcare bills.
In the UK, childcare and having children is seen as a private thing – a lifestyle choice, if you will. There is no acknowledgement of the wider social benefits of continuing the species, of building the workforce pipeline, to put it in crude economic terms, until children turn five and start school. We have become completely atomised and each group is lined up against another. We need to step back and develop a positive vision of society that is one we wish to live in and consider how we might get there, however long it takes.