UK Policy Briefings
Autumn Budget 2021: Childcare, gender and Covid-19
Date Posted: Thursday 21st October 2021
“The coronavirus pandemic threw into disarray a childcare sector which was already failing. This briefing summarises key issues – supply, access, quality and affordability – and analyses the impact of Covid.”
Even before the onset of the Covid pandemic, the childcare system in England was failing to meet the needs of children, parents and the economy. The cost and unavailability of childcare puts household budgets under strain and for many women ‘it doesn’t pay to work’: an estimated 1.7 million women are prevented from taking on more hours of paid work due to childcare issues, resulting in up to £28.2bn economic output lost every year.
“An estimated 1.7 million women are prevented from taking on more hours of paid work due to childcare issues, resulting in up to £28.2bn in economic output being lost every year”
A lack of access to high quality childcare can leave disadvantaged children behind before they have even started school, requiring expensive interventions. Covid disrupted access to childcare and early years education, impacting children in deprived areas more and widening development gaps.
The pandemic and the government’s response have exacerbated the crisis in childcare. Continued underfunding, and the decision to stop funding at pre-Covid attendance levels in January 2021, is threatening the survival of providers. In the six months up to March 2021, there was a 4.4% net loss of childcare providers and 1.1% net loss of childcare places, driven mostly by childminders leaving the sector.
“A failure to address the childcare crisis will increase educational inequalities and prevent millions of parents, especially mothers, from accessing the labour market”
High quality, affordable early years education and care is critical to the ‘levelling up’ agenda. A failure to address the childcare crisis will increase educational inequalities between poorer children and their wealthier peers, entrench inequality, and prevent millions of parents, especially mothers, from accessing the labour market.
In the short term the Women’s Budget Group is calling for: funding for the ‘free hours’ hourly rate that reflects the true cost of care provision, including paying staff the Real Living Wage and providing plenty of places for children with SEND and 2-year-olds that qualify for the free hours; an independent review into the childcare system we want and need, including how it is funded, and a workforce strategy to develop the practitioners needed to deliver it; and, in the medium term, a supply-side funding model, a better rewarded workforce and increased targeted support for the most disadvantaged children, who benefit the most from high-quality childcare.
In the longer term the Women’s Budget Group is calling for: the government to invest in a universal and free system, delivered as a public infrastructure service on an equal footing with school education. Investment in such a system will largely pay for itself due to the big returns on maternal employment.