Labour has called on the government to focus financial support on the struggling childcare sector to “prevent a wave of nursery closures” in the coronavirus pandemic.
In a visit to a nursery on Thursday, shadow minister for children and early years Tulip Siddiq will warn that a mass shutting down of childcare settings would result in a “setting back” in the country’s recovery.
She is expected to emphasise that if a large number of nurseries are closed, this could lead to many parents – particularly women – losing their jobs, which would have a knock-on effect on the economy.
Commenting ahead of her visit, Siddiq said: “Childcare is absolutely essential for working parents and to our economic recovery from coronavirus. But it has been ignored by the government in this crisis, with the early years sector consistently excluded from support packages.
“We were already losing hundreds of nurseries and childminders every month before this crisis hit due to years of underfunding. We can’t afford for any more to close, but that is precisely what will happen unless the government targets support properly on sectors like childcare.”
Recent research by Ofsted shows that there were 14,000 fewer childcare providers in England in March 2020 than in March 2015, and that the total number declined by 500 in the first three months of this year.
A survey by the Early Years Alliance of 3,000 pre-schools, nurseries and childminders in April found that 25% of respondents felt they were “somewhat” or “very unlikely” to be still operating in 12 months’ time.
Siddiq added: “It’s time for ministers to get serious about supporting families in this pandemic and step in with a proper plan to save the childcare sector.”
Labour MPs also criticised Chancellor Rishi Sunak for the absence of support for female workers in the economic coronavirus recovery plan at a Treasury committee meeting on Wednesday.
Siobhain McDonagh highlighted that women had been disproportionately affected by the health crisis, and told Sunak that “we are 51% of the population, we are more likely to lose our jobs, and to not do the hours we normally do”.
Angela Eagle raised the fact that the Chancellor had failed to mention childcare once in the ‘mini Budget’, despite the government acknowledging that women have been disproportionately impacted by Covid.