The closure of schools and nurseries has hurt parents’ work. The UK has a high proportion of two-working parents: over 70 per cent of couples with children work. © Leila Cutler/Alamy

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Nurseries and childminders in England lost up to £228m during the coronavirus lockdown and require emergency funding if they are to survive, according to a coalition of groups representing businesses, unions, parents and children. 

In a joint statement published on Wednesday, the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women’s equality, the Trades Union Congress and British Chambers of Commerce, among others, urged the Chancellor to bail out the childcare sector in this autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Otherwise, the money invested in shoring up employment, will be “wasted” if “parents, particularly mothers” are unable to work. 

The closure of schools and nurseries has hurt parents’ work, but women have been hit particularly hard. The UK has a high proportion of two-working parents: over 70 per cent of couples with children work.

Research by the TUC found that 41 per cent of working mothers in Great Britain worried that their ability to do their job would be affected by a lack of childcare. Forty-six per cent of the 20,000 mothers and pregnant women surveyed by advocacy group Pregnant Then Screwed, said that childcare closures were a contributing factor in their redundancy during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics found parents were almost “twice as likely to be furloughed (13.6 per cent) as those without children (7.2 per cent)”. 

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said the lack of childcare threatens to set back women’s participation in the workforce. “Maternal employment in the UK is on a precipice. All the signals are clear that we risk rolling back a decade of growth.”

Claire Walker, co-executive director of the BCC, said that rising coronavirus infection rates make it imperative that “childcare is properly supported to enable parents to access the workforce and help our economic recovery.” 

Even before the pandemic hit the UK, nurseries and childminders’ income was precarious. This was exacerbated by falling demand during lockdown. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 250,000 children aged 0 to 4 attended childcare during lockdown, compared with around 1.4m before the measures were introduced.

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While the government continued to provide funding for 3- and 4-year olds’ for up to 30 hours, as well as business loans and some staff costs through the furlough scheme, campaigners said there was still a shortfall, leaving many providers in fear of going out of business. 

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said that “the early years sector has received significant financial support over the past months . . . and we continue to provide extra security to nurseries and childminders that are open by ‘block-buying’ childcare places for the rest of this year at the level we would have funded before coronavirus”.

Nonetheless, new analysis by Frontier Economics estimates that childcare providers in England lost up to £228m — or 13 per cent of the sectors’ income — during lockdown, based on a scenario in which parents did not pay any fees. A more conservative model, assuming parents continued to pay 15 per cent of the fees, for example through retainers, would result in a loss of £185m.

Childminders, who are usually self-employed, were the hardest hit, losing 29 per cent of their income. The sector is overwhelmingly female: 97 per cent of childcare workers are women, according to government figures.

Julia Waltham, head of policy at Working Families, a campaign group, says that parents have suffered from the government’s changing advice that they need to return to the office, and urged the chancellor to prioritise childcare as part of the country’s infrastructure.

“There is an ongoing frustration around the government’s prioritisation of transport and high-speed internet but not looking at childcare in terms of getting parents back to work.”

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