UK Policy Briefings
Childcare, Gender and Covid-19
Date Posted: Monday 23rd November 2020
Policy briefing from the UK Women’s Budget Group and the New Economics Foundation.
High quality, accessible and affordable early childhood education and care is an investment in essential social infrastructure, with long-term benefits for the economy and society. First, high-quality childcare helps to close the attainment gap between low-income children and their more advantaged peers, reducing inequalities and creating benefits that last throughout a child’s time in school and beyond. Second, it removes barriers to employment, particularly for women, who are still disproportionately responsible for unpaid care. Third, it creates more (well-paid) jobs in the sector.
- The childcare system in England was not fit for purpose and was failing to meet the needs of children, parents, and the economy.
- High-quality childcare has the greatest benefit for disadvantaged children. However, access to high-quality education and care is severely constrained by income, with the result that those children who would benefit most cannot access such care. 17% of providers in England’s poorest areas were facing closure.
- Supply was not keeping pace with demand. Only just over half (57%) of local authorities in England had enough childcare for the children whose parents work full-time and just a fifth (22%) had enough for the children of parents working atypical hours.
- Affordability was a key issue. Childcare costs were around 30% of the income of dual-earner couples on median incomes and around 20% for 1.5 earner couples.
- There was not enough support for children in the most disadvantaged backgrounds, including for children whose parents are not in employment.
- The childcare sector was underfunded by an estimated £662 million in 2019/2020. Free entitlement hours for under-twos were underfunded by 37% and by 20% for three- and four-year-olds.
- 98% of the childcare workforce is female. Annual staff turnover in 2019 had reached 24% and 40% of childcare workers rely on state benefits or tax credits to make ends meet.
- 69% of childcare providers anticipate running at a loss for at least the rest of the year.
- 25% of childcare providers believe they will close within a year.
- Sutton Trust research shows that the lack of formal childcare provision during COVID has had ‘the biggest impact on the poorest childcare’ with potentially lasting impacts on the attainment gap. They also highlight that 1 in 3 nursery closures will be in poorer areas.
- 81% of mothers require formal childcare to go to work, yet in July only half had access to childcare, 33% of employed mums had lost a childcare place since March, rising to 48% for self-employed mothers. 46% of mothers being made redundant said that lack of childcare was a factor in their selection for redundancy and 72% have worked fewer hours and cut their earnings due to lack of childcare.
Urgent action is required to overhaul the childcare system. This requires emergency support for providers now, moving to a supply-side funding model in the medium term, as well as better training for the workforce and increased support for the most disadvantaged children, who benefit the most from high-quality childcare. In the longer-term, we argue for a universal and free system, in recognition of childcare as a public service on equal footing as school education.
 Early Years Alliance (2020) Parents set to face childcare ‘chaos’ as new data shows huge scale of financial losses facing early years sector (https://bit.ly/2JzFCX1)
 The Sutton Trust (Apr 2020) Social mobility and Covid-19 (https://bit.ly/3jYmAGe)