Shadow minister says it's crunch time for early years

Early years

Shadow minister says it's crunch time for early years

Talking to the sector at the recent Childcare and Education Virtual Summit, the shadow minister said that this sector was one of many dealt a hammer blow by coronavirus, but one of the few that was asked to continue to provide its essential services throughout.

"Childcare was essential for keyworkers at the height of the pandemic and it is essential now for parents who are being asked to return to work," said Siddiq. "You've been asked to provide a fourth emergency service, yet you have not been given anything like the support you need to do it. You had to deal with huge staffing issues with only limited support. You've had to pay for cleaning and other COVID safety measures yourselves. And you are still having to cope with massive reductions in demand without any targeted financial support.

"It's not like the sector was in great financial health before this crisis," she continued. "After years of receiving far less than you need to provide a childcare place from government funding rate, many fantastic nurseries, childminders and other childcare businesses have been pushed to the brink of collapse, with nurseries, nursery schools and pre-schools also struggling to get by. This underfunding has also driven down wages in the sector, which combined with the government's failure to properly recognise and reward career progression in early years has driven many talented staff out of the profession and put people off joining it."

Child reading

The early-years sector is an essential part of that recovery, said Siddiq, “whether the government recognises it or not”. But it is “reaching a crunch point”, she added, predicting that “financial difficulties built up over many years of underfunding and exacerbated by COVID-19 will come to a head."

This, said the shadow minister, “could turn from a steady trickle of early years providers and staff losses into widespread collapse of the sector. We have lost 14,000 [early-years] providers since 2015 and if the sector’s fears are realised, we could see a further 19,000 lost by next summer. This would be catastrophic not just for the jobs lost in the sector and the lives of the families you support, but also for our economic recovery from coronavirus.

We must not allow this to happen. I have been making the case as strongly as I can for targeted financial support, to save the sector in the long term. The coronavirus must be a wake-up call that we cannot go back to undervaluing and underfunding essential services, like childcare and early education, and underpaying the fantastic workers who provide them."