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.

View and download the full policy briefing here. 

Key points:

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.

Before Covid-19

  • 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.[1]
  • 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%[2] and 40% of childcare workers rely on state benefits or tax credits to make ends meet.

During Covid-19

  • 69% of childcare providers anticipate running at a loss for at least the rest of the year.[3]
  • 25% of childcare providers believe they will close within a year.[4]
  • 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.[5] They also highlight that 1 in 3 nursery closures will be in poorer areas.[6]
  • 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.[7]

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.

View and download the full policy briefing here. 

[1] Nursery World (Jun 2019) Nurseries in poor areas facing closure (

[2] National Day Nurseries Association (2019) Nursery crisis: Stacking shelves more appealing than educating children (

[3] Early Years Alliance (2020) Parents set to face childcare ‘chaos’ as new data shows huge scale of financial losses facing early years sector (

[4] Early Years Alliance (2020) Coronavirus: A quarter of childcare providers fear permanent closure within the year, new Alliance survey reveals (

[5] The Sutton Trust (Apr 2020) Social mobility and Covid-19 (

[6] The Sutton Trust (Jul 2020) Covid-19 impacts: Early Years (

[7] Pregnant Then Screwed (2020) Covid, Childcare and Career (