Key workers: who are they?

Most key workers are women – many of them single parents – so the childcare issues created by coronavirus are big and the long-term impact on sharing childcare will be interesting.

Young child playing with toys in a childcare setting


It is estimated that 60% of key workers are women and that as many as 42% of key workers have at least one child aged 16 or under. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, they are more likely to be single parents and almost a third have a partner who is also a key worker. Most in health and education have either no partner or a partner who is working.

Childcare access is therefore crucial. While the Government urges parents who can to keep children at home, some nurseries and schools are providing childcare for key workers, there have been some issues around this.

Firstly, the definition of key workers is unclear, putting pressure on schools and parents. Many key workers don’t work daytime shifts, yet parents can no longer rely on grandparents or others to provide care due to the lockdown. Moreover, they may have been relying on family for childcare to reduce the cost of childcare.

We are receiving many emails from key workers who are struggling with childcare. While the Government has confirmed that early years assistance will remain in place during the coronavirus pandemic and has increased Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit payments, there is a real need to provide clearer advice and support to parents, particularly low-income single parents.

For those with partners, the next few weeks could see not only a sea change in approaches to remote working as more people work from home, but also greater involvement of dads in childcare, as more have to take on the primary carer role if they work from home and cannot access key formal childcare. That means not only working from home and doing childcare, but also taking the lead in homeschooling.

It will be interesting to watch what happens and what the impact is long term.

Key worker list published

The Government has published the list of key workers whose children will still be able to access schools and nurseries during the coronavirus outbreak.

Comments [16]

  • Lauren says:

    Hi I am key worker in care. I do nightshift my issue is that I sleep while son in school. Is my child eligible for space

  • Kirsteen says:

    I have a 4 year old child and I am a key worker (care worker). My shifts are between 0700 and 2200 on a Friday Saturday Sunday. My mother and father have always looked after my daughter whilst I work. Since the pandemic my parents still look after my child as I am not prepared to allow a stranger to look after her (including bathing, sleeping)
    My mother is also a key worker and father is working from home. My ex partner is not able to provide care. My parents are both early 50s and fit and healthy. Am I doing anything illegal? I don’t see any other options.
    In addition to this following my shifts I isolate for 10 days before I have to work again and my child goes to stay with them (they watch her from 0700 Friday morning until 1200 on the Monday.

    • Mandy Garner says:

      We know of other key workers using younger grandparents when there is no other option and saying they could argue it based on lack of childcare that covers their shifts and that the priority is to have keyworkers in work. Local authorities are coordinating childcare for key workers so you could check with them what they might suggest.

  • Jo says:

    Hi, I am doing a highly sensitive job (one I would not want my children to hear the content of) I am working from home and can be minuting meetings for up to 2 hours leaving a 6 & 8 year old unsupervised. School won’t have them because I am working from home, Any advice?

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi, It sounds incredibly difficult. Is there any way you can break down the work and do it in shorter bursts or do it at hours of the day when they are asleep or create a regular time during the day when they can watch a video. It will be easier if it is part of a routine or can you get distant relatives to read them a story online etc to give you focused time to do your work?

  • Mary Belfield says:

    Hi, I do cleaning and shopping for my Mother-in-law, does that give me key worker status. Thank you.

  • Kirstie Evans says:

    Hello need advice please I’m.a keyworker work nights 22.00-09.00 my daughters grandparents usually care for her overnight while I work what do I do now I’m due back to work after self isolation due to daughter being ill I’m a single parent so only adult at home so confused dont say nothing about nightshift keyworker who are single parents any thanks

  • Nicola Ferguson says:

    I am a single mum, and dad not around, not happy to send them to school and what happens if get sick what happen to my children asking on behalf of a friend thanks

  • Nicola Lawson says:

    Hi I am a single parent who works as a nurse for the NHS. My son is only 5. The nearest hub school is miles away and I don’t drive. I live right next to where I work. The problem is his dad is in self isolation for 12 weeks and family friend cannot help as no on is allowed to leave there house. So I have no one to help me while I go to work. I have to take annual leave for these reasons. Lone working parents needs more guidance.

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Nicola,
      I know this issue of childcare is huge for key workers and I am putting up a story on Monday of an organisation which is working with medical students to deliver free childcare to NHS workers. It is launching on Tuesday nationwide.

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