Childcare for Key Workers
Just like other schools, all nurseries have been shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. For a long time this year, they could only remain open to admit children of essential workers as well as vulnerable children. The main problem with the UK is that it has several types of childcare and nursery provisions, from school preschools to private daycares and bilingual nurseries, that are funded and offered in various ways. Therefore, the effect of this measure on staff, parents, and children will be different depending on the type of nursery. Specifically, if the nursery is operated as a business, there’s a real threat of it facing permanent closure if it has gotten into debt.
Although state schools offer early education and childhood care, most early years provision is provided by private day nurseries. When it comes to state nursery classes that are part of schools or independent state nursery schools, nursery education is free-of-charge to some parents. Personnel in state nurseries are employees and will be paid regardless if their workplace is open or not. So just like schools, state nursery provision will re-open when the crisis has come to an end.
In most cases, nursery schools and state nursery classes operate on a part-time basis and don’t admit children under the ages of two and a half or three. For this reason, parents who spend most of their time at work usually opt for private day nurseries, which will see them pay a weekly stipend of up to £80 per day. The government offers both childcare and education subsidies towards this fee, but the subsidies offered rarely cover the fees since about 70% of private nurseries will charge extra, which is above the government’s allowance.
There are also significant staffing problems in the private nursery field. About half of all staff in the big companies and many more in smaller chains are on apprenticeship programmes, which is a cost-effective way of providing employment. It’s unclear the type of employment status apprentices like that have. Recent studies have shown that most nursery personnel are employed at less than minimum wage and with minimal work-related benefits. Like other enterprises, private nursery businesses may attempt to gain access to new government loan programmes and take advantage to cover 80% of their salary costs. But when staff salaries are already low, or under the minimum wage, then 80% of the salary expenses are a starvation wage.
In this scenario, England nurseries are scuffling to find solutions to recover lost income. Advice from big company websites changes almost every day. A specific big company, Just Childcare, on their site, was asking parents to pay for fees despite nurseries being closed, although they seem to have recanted this, and the justification they made for demanding for fees is no longer available for viewership online. Another big chain, Bright Horizons, tried to position themselves as the top company to deliver childcare for essential workers and are now providing webinars on managing the pandemic.
Childcare is Integral
The coronavirus pandemic has shown that childcare is key to both the government and employers. It is being viewed as it wasn’t in the past, as an integral and essential part of the employment and education infrastructure. If several childcare businesses collapse, it will have massive consequences for the economy in general. The contradiction and muddle of the field, high costs, variations in access, low levels of qualifications, lack of coordination, poor wages, lack of accountability, and the inconsistent funding are being laid out in the open like never before. It has become evident that the early childcare and education system requires a total overhaul. Like many other sectors, this crisis has shown the impact of neglect and austerity over the years.