Childcare will play an absolutely vital role in any post-pandemic economic recovery, but this recovery is at risk as one in four nurseries may struggle to reopen.
Mums across the UK — who typically take on primary caring roles for children — will struggle to return to work without adequate childcare; they may face pay losses or risk losing their jobs altogether.
Unite has joined the TUC in calling for a government bailout of the childcare sector after the TUC highlighted that some nurseries will not re-open at all after having fallen victim to the coronavirus crisis.
The TUC also identified a number of other challenges childcare providers and the parents who need them will face amid the pandemic. For one, many childcare settings will only operate reduced hours or with fewer places to enable social distancing.
The TUC also warned that ‘wraparound’ before and after school care will be either unavailable or extremely limited and noted that the NHS track and trace system may require childcare providers and schools to shut down at very short notice following an outbreak.
The TUC has called for a bailout of the childcare sector similar to what has been given to transport networks so that providers can provide similar levels of care as before the pandemic. A bailout would also enable nurseries, childminders, breakfast and after school childcare and holiday schemes to remain open with social distancing measures in place.
Childcare provision is especially vital for the UK’s economic recovery because the UK has an unusually high proportion of households were both parents work – at about 70 per cent, the Financial Times highlighted.
Childcare providers told the FT that they were already struggling financially before the pandemic because they were not being adequately funded by the government to cover the 30 hours a week free childcare the government offers to parents of 3 and 4 year olds in England.
What’s more, many childcare providers said they were not given clarity over how the furlough scheme applied to them – many were of the understanding that they could both use the furlough scheme fully while also claiming funding for free hours, which was not the case.
They discovered this only after they had committed to topping up staff wages or waiving parents’ fees, the FT reported.
Unite has welcomed the TUC’s call for emergency measures to ensure that working parents, particularly women, are not discriminated against because of they are struggling without adequate childcare.
The TUC called on the government to protect women from unfair redundancies by making it clear that employers are breaking the law if they unfairly select women for redundancy because they are struggling with childcare.
Workers should be given the right to work as flexibly as possible from day one of their jobs, by for example, being allowed to work from home, having predictable or set hours, job-sharing, compressed hours or term-time working.
The TUC went on to issue a call for parental leave to be made fit for purpose amid the pandemic, by giving all workers, regardless of their employment status, a day one right to 10 days paid parental leave. This could be used, the TUC said, to cover parents who are unable to work during a two-week self-isolation mandated by NHS Track and Trace.
Unite has also welcomed the call for women’s jobs in particular to be protected during the Covid-19 crisis, by the government ensuring a limited form of the job retention scheme remains in place beyond October to support parents who are unable to return to work because of childcare responsibilities until schools and childcare settings are fully reopened
“Our childcare sector is on the brink of collapse – and it’s putting women’s jobs on the line. If childcare places disappear, women will be pushed out of the workforce,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.
“Women workers are bearing the brunt of this crisis, both on the frontline and at home. Mums have picked up the majority of childcare while nurseries and schools have been closed – and many have had to sacrifice work hours and pay to do so,” she added.
“The government can’t stand by while mums are forced out of their jobs. Childcare is necessary if we are going to work our way out of this economic crisis and stop the misery of mass unemployment. If we’re all in this together, nurseries desperately need government cash to stay open.”
Unite national officer Siobhan Endean agreed.
“The government is clearly out of touch with the realities of life for women; already working long hours, and longer since their pensions were stolen, without job security, often in two or three jobs, desperately juggling home schooling; child care and elder care and relying on universal credit which provides little relief or support,” she said.
“The government needs to act urgently to support the child care sector and provide job security and paid parental leave for parents. Employers must carry out equality impact assessments as they return to operations to ensure they are not unfairly discriminating against women.”
You read the full TUC report on Covid-19 impact on childcare here.
By Hajera Blagg