Childcare providers across England struggling to find staff, councils say

The government has pledged more free childcare for working families – but a new TUC analysis highlights issues with low pay and worker shortages.

Nursery worker playing with children


Every English region is struggling to recruit childcare workers, according to a new analysis published today by the Trades Union Congress (TUC). 

Over nine in ten English councils said childcare providers in their area were finding it difficult to recruit suitable workers, while eight in ten described it as “very difficult”.

The TUC, a federation of unions in England and Wales, put together the analysis using polling data from the charity Coram Family and Childcare. 

The government has pledged to introduce its ambitious childcare expansion plan in stages from next spring, but childcare providers have raised major concerns over how this will work in practice, saying their sector is already beset by a lack of state funding and staff shortages.

The TUC found that the East of England, West Midlands, and North East seemed to have particularly severe shortages – 100% of councils in these regions said childcare providers found it “very difficult” to recruit staff with the right skills and experience. The analysis used Coram’s polling data for its annual childcare survey.

The TUC said low pay was one of the main reasons for the nationwide “staffing crisis”. Almost two-thirds (62%) of childcare assistants and practitioners earn less than £10.90 an hour, according to separate figures published by the union body today. 

Under the government’s childcare expansion plan, working families in England are set to receive with 30 hours of state-funded care a week once their child is nine months old. The ’30 free hours’ scheme currently only applies to children aged 3-4.

‘An overwhelmingly female workforce’

The TUC is calling for a “care workforce strategy” to tackle staff shortages in both childcare and social care in England. The strategy would include a minimum hourly wage of £15 and the end of zero-hours contracts.

“Demand for care is rising. Caring is skilled work, and the overwhelmingly female workforce deserves decent pay and conditions,” Paul Nowak, the head of  the TUC, said in a statement.

Childcare providers would likely need more state funding in order to do this. The UK invests less public money in childcare than the OECD average, and providers have repeatedly said that they struggle to balance their books partly because the government does not give them enough funding for its free childcare schemes.

The childcare sector’s woes are pushing many providers to shut down, with recent figures showing rises in nursery closures and in the number of childminders leaving the profession.

The childcare and social care sectors disproportionately affect women, partly because they have predominantly female workforces, and partly because professional care services often affect whether women in other sectors can continue to work.

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