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Post Pandemic Childcare – manifesto

Post Pandemic Childcare – the start of a manifesto

First circulated 22 January 2021

Successive governments have failed women – who undertake the majority of unpaid or underpaid childcare work, and right now are once again shouldering the burden of a public health crisis and papering over the gaps of incoherent early years policy.

The decision to keep early years settings open, while closing schools during the new lockdown, has finally drawn attention to the rights of the 363,400 childcare workers[i] in our fragmented, largely privatised and increasingly chain-dominated childcare sector.[ii] Meanwhile thousands of registered childminders have already fallen through gaps in the SEISS,[iii] and the situation of precarious workers, nannies, au pairs and unregistered childminders, particularly those with No Recourse to Public Funds status, continues to be largely hidden from view.

Unpaid early years childcare is worth around £340 billion to the economy per year but not included in GDP.[iii] Yet remains ignored, unless you count the hard-won exemptions for ‘informal’ i.e. unpaid and unregistered childcare, allowed from September 2020 (childcare 'bubbles').[iv] Child Benefit, the remnants of what was Family Allowance, once functioned as a small attempt to remunerate unpaid childcare work.[v] It is now means-tested and has not risen with inflation since 2011.[vi] We believe we need expanded policies for universal early years education and care for all children, that truly value the work of childcare workers who provide crucial education and care at the most important stage of children's development. This is vital to fight disadvantage and ‘level up’.

The 30 hours ‘free childcare’ for working parents, and 15 hour entitlements are underfunded, putting financial pressures on nurseries. This has led to fee rises and extra costs for parents, and low wages for the childcare workforce. Small, non-profit and public nurseries (council-run day nurseries, and maintained nursery schools), that serve deprived communities, support children with SEND, and those learning English as a second language, and try to keep fees affordable, have already been struggling or closing their doors. The Sutton Trust has pointed out that the 30 hours policy provides ‘longer hours in state-funded early education for children who are already relatively advantaged’.[vii] The number of nurseries closing in England has jumped by 153% since the launch of the policy.[viii] Places are being lost where children would benefit the most from quality nurseries. Meanwhile, childcare professionals – a 98% female workforce[ix] – continue to on average earn less than the minimum wage,[x] while private childcare for children from 0-2 years (where there is no ‘free hours’ entitlement) costs between 45% and 60% of women’s salaries.[xi]

When the pandemic hit, no early years settings, not even maintained nursery schools, were able to apply for DfE funding for additional covid-19 costs such as cleaning and they were also excluded from the DfE Coronavirus Workforce fund. [xii]

‘Free hours’ funding is allocated on the basis of termly headcounts of children attending. During the first lockdown, this funding was continued, pegged at pre-pandemic levels. During the January 2021 lockdown the government has changed this policy. Despite 52% of parents opting to keep children at home for safety reasons,[xiii] the ‘free hours’ funding will once again be linked to actual occupancy rates (based on a planned January 2021 census).[xiv] Last minute ‘guidance’ has built in some flexibility but with room for each local council to implement it differently.[xv] Even with this, the overall impact will be a further reduction in funding leading to massive closures of nurseries, putting families (especially mothers) under huge pressure when lockdown lifts and they are required to return to work.[xvi] Letting this happen will mean redundancies of predominantly female workforces, more unregistered childcare, and the reversal of decades of progress made by women in the labour market.[xvi] A feminist legacy is being lost up and down the country. Early years settings provide vital early support, and any closures of affordable high-quality nurseries also risks a dire impact on children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Childcare settings that shut down cannot easily restart. Opening a quality early years setting for children requires significant upfront costs and long timeframes for staff recruitment, training, and completing the Ofsted registration process. A lack of available childcare will also create a drag on the wider economy as employers lose parent workers who find it unaffordable to return.

During lockdown 71% of public nurseries stayed open, and 35% of other early years providers – putting their lives at risk to ensure support for children and public health objectives.[xvii] England is exceptional within Europe in the extent that it has deliberately shaped the childcare market to promote the provision of services by for-profit companies. 84% of childcare is delivered by for- profit providers, as opposed to 3% in Germany or 4% in France.[xviii] This method of provision hasn’t been able to step up to meet the needs of the pandemic.[xix] 44% of health and care workers in London where covid-19 initially peaked (and 22% nationally) said they did not think that the government had done enough to provide adequate childcare.[xx] Our inadequate and unaffordable childcare system means many lower paid key workers, NHS workers, and lower income workers in general, continue to have to make use of the only really flexible option – unpaid care – family support – putting grandparents at risk.[xxi]

The government has not published any clear evidence that young children transmit the virus less.[xxi] Ofsted records show the number of childcare providers reporting outbreaks has risen from 3 a week in early July, to 829 a week in November.[xxii] Each new case risks nurseries completely shutting, closing access, and forcing critical workers to stay home too. With the new strain, and public health crisis so dire, we support the calls of trade unions, UNISON, NEU, UVW and GMB, for the closure of early years settings, to all but key workers and vulnerable children. All children with SEND must also be prioritised for continued educational support and care.

We need to see a response that reflects the scale of the crises and recognises the importance of early years provision for both the economy and equality.

Please sign our open letter at:

About the campaign:

We are a group of early years workers, childcare providers and parent campaigners concerned about the loss of small, non-profit, community and cooperative nurseries, council-run day nurseries, and maintained nursery schools, and angry that the hostile environment, and the importance of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) provision, is often ignored in terms of demands for interventions to protect early years provision.

The open letter and this manifesto was co-written by Nirupama Naidu and Louise O’Hare (parent campaigners, SEND Crisis, Tower Hamlets), Veronica Deutsch and Miranda Critchley (organisers, Nanny Solidarity Network), Lee Shannon (parent campaigner, National Public Day Nurseries campaign and Fight For The Five, Salford), Lucie Stephens (director, Friendly Families Nursery, Deptford). It was first publicly circulated for signatures on Friday 22 January 2021.

Stop press: We sent the letter to Ministers on Monday 22 February 2021, however we continue to seek signatories from individuals and organisations who wish to join the coalition and campaign for these demands. Sign-ups will be invited to our open meeting (online) in the coming weeks, where we will welcome new input and discuss next steps.

Join us! – please contact us on:

Further actions:

  • We urge all early years workers to join a union. Those currently organising include, UNISON, NEU, GMB, the new branch of UVW: United Childcare Workers, and for nannies and au pairs, the IWGB holding branch.

  • Sign the Unison and NEU petition calling for closures of early years settings (admit key worker and vulnerable children only), emergency funding, a long term funding formula, funding allocations maintained, and furlough for parents

Credits: We are named after a zoom event we met at, organised by Christine Berry, in Summer 2020. Thanks also to the Women’s Strike for introductions. Graphics credit: NIFF Books

Endnotes and further information:

[i] "There were an estimated 72 thousand providers offering 1.7 million Ofsted registered childcare places in England in Spring 2019 [...] This early years provision was delivered by an estimated 363,400 staff" – Survey of Childcare and Early Years Providers: Main Summary, England, 2019,

[ii] For research on the way childcare is becoming increasingly chain-dominated childcare please see the work of Helen Penn, for example,

[iii] Gaps in the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

ExcludedUK have found £3 million UK taxpayers have fallen through cracks in the scheme:


Childminders have suffered due to inadequacies of the SEISS. In May 2020, PACEY (the industry body representing childminders) raised concerns that thousands of childminders have not been eligible (including those who are recently self employed or a limited company). Their survey found thousands of registered childminders are unlikely to receive the Government support they need to sustain their businesses:

“Just under a quarter [of registered childminders] only had a total household income of between £10,000 and £20,000 last year; and just under 10% had an income of less than £10,000. These women don’t make profits, they survive on low-incomes that just cover their living costs. Whatever they have left over they plough back into their setting to ensure it provides children with the high quality experiences they are proud of delivering as early years practitioners.”

Lack of maternity exemption:

Pregnant then Screwed are taking the Government to court for indirect discrimination because the way the SEISS is calculated, does not exempt periods of maternity leave. They calculate this has impacted 69,200 women.

[iii] Value of childcare provided at home £320 billion in 2014:

‘The Office for National Statistics has reported that the total value of childcare provided at home was worth £320 billion in 2014, and notes that, in line with international standards for the production of national accounts, this is not included in GDP. Were the Government to pay stay-at-home parents an hourly rate, part of this at-home childcare provision would be brought into the formal economy.’

– House of Commons Treasury Committee: Childcare, Ninth Report of Session report 2017–19, 20 March 2018,

[iv] Policy change 22 September 2020:

Current unpaid “Informal and unregistered” childcare policy during lockdown:

[v] For more on Child Benefit, and to learn about Eleanor Rathbone, see Selma James,

[vi] Child Benefit:

Since January 2013, Child Benefit has been means tested. Just prior to the introduction of means testing, the TUC noted it was nominal – “only a contribution” – to the cost of a child, yet “a vitally important contribution and especially so for poorer families.” They projected that “by the time of the next election, families with two children will be more than £300 a year worse off because of this policy and those where a parent earns more than £50,000 will lose even more.

“Unlike some other sources of income (such as maintenance or earnings from insecure employment) it is reliable and regular. Unlike means-tested benefits, it does not go up or down as a mother’s family status or other sources of income change, so it is a secure basis for planned spending on the children. Because it is universal, Child Benefit does not create as many disincentives to work or saving as means-tested benefits.[...] This briefing looks at the freeze in Child Benefit in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and the Chancellor’s decision to limit uprating after that to 1 per cent a year, regardless of the inflation rate. It looks at the history of Child Benefit uprating and draws some lessons for the future."

–“‘Child Benefit’, Economic and Social Affairs Department, TUC, January 2013,

Two-child cap – Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit:

Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit provide means-tested support for families in poverty and other low-income families. Until April 2017, this support included up to £2,780 per year for each child. But the two-child limit meant that these families no longer received Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit for any third or subsequent children born after April 2017.

In May 2020, the Child Poverty Action Group estimated the two-child limit will push 300,000 children into poverty, and 1 million into deeper poverty by 2023-24.

Universal Credit – paying childcare costs up front:

Working parents on Universal Credit can claim back 85% of childcare costs. However, a House of Commons Treasury Committee report (2018) noted that “requiring parents to pay for their childcare costs up front, before seeking reimbursement later, is a fundamental design flaw”. They said the Government should consider how the Department for Work and Pension could pay the childcare element of Universal Credit directly to childcare providers.

[vii] Sutton Trust on the 30 hours policy 2017:

"[...] neither the tax-free childcare scheme nor the 30 hour entitlement for working families are well-designed to promote social mobility, meaning longer hours in state-funded early education for children who are already relatively advantaged, which may be expected to widen gaps in child development at school starting age. Particularly worrying, these investments are coming at the expense of the quality of provision." See Closing Gaps Early: The role of early years policy in promoting social mobility in England, September 2017,

[viii] National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) reports that the number of nurseries closing in England had jumped by 153% since the launch of the 30 hours 'free' childcare policy began. See

[ix] “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.”

[x] Childcare workers earning less than minimum wage:

"Childcare workers are being paid less than £5 per hour, the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) has warned, and the average wage for those in the profession falls well below the national minimum pay for adults. In its new report, The stability of the early years workforce in England, the SMC reports that one in eight – 13% – of early years professionals are paid under £5 per hour, while the average wage is only £7.42 per hour. This is well below the National Living Wage of £8.72 per hour." – Institute of Employment Rights, 6 August 2020

"13% of the workforce earn less than £5.00 an hour... the workforce is mainly young and female - 40% are below aged 30 and 96% are female"

The stability of the early years workforce in England, Social Mobility Commission, 5 August 2020,

[xi] “Women’s Budget Group research shows that even before the crisis, in England, childcare costs for a nursery place for a child under three absorbed between 45% and 60% of women’s annual salaries (full-time and part-time respectively). Comparison across western countries has shown that childcare costs of approximately 10% of net family income is optimal for supporting high levels of maternal employment.”, Tuesday 21July 2020,

[xii] Despite all Ofsted registered providers delivering Early Years Education and Care, as part of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework, they couldn’t apply for the financial support to cover “exceptional costs” given to schools. NEU notes that even maintained nursery schools, which are staffed by qualified teachers and SENCOs, were excluded from this funding.

Likewise the DfE Coronavirus Workforce fund is only available for schools “that provide education to all pupils who are required to be in compulsory education”

[xiii] “New statistics from the Department for Education show a dramatic fall in the number of children attending early years settings since the start of the spring term. According to the figures, the number of children taking up an early years place in England was at 37% of normal term-time rates and just 52% of what the government would normally expect at this time of year.”

[xiv] On 17 December 2020 the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed that funding for the government’s early years schemes will no longer be paid to local authorities at pre-pandemic levels.

[xv] Last minute ‘guidance’ has built in some flexibility but with room for each local council to implement it differently, stating: ‘…we have taken the view that where a child is reasonably expected to attend Early Years provision, and that provision is made available to them by the provider, their expected hours should be recorded in the Early Years Census.’ However, the same guidance cautions providers: 'Please do not make a census return for 2021 in the situation where the PVI setting has chosen to close and not provide the entitlements due to: limited anticipated attendance […] staff caution'. Although suggesting some reprieve, it is left to Local Authorities to decide how to implement this guidance and allocate funds. This will drive childcare settings to maximise the number of children attending childcare settings during the Census week in order to secure funding. This behaviour clearly goes against the lockdown guidance of Minister for Health, Matt Hancock to ‘stay home and act like you have the virus’.

[xvi] Projected mass closures:

In July, the Early Years Alliance found a quarter of childcare providers in England thought it unlikely they would still be open within the next 12 months. Further analysis suggested around 19,000 providers were at risk.

Settings-based providers/ nurseries have suffered due to it not being possible for a one-size-fits-all response – as the sector is made of different kinds of organisations including charities, small businesses, and large chains.


[xvi] “Disruption to the labour market caused by the impact of Covid-19 has had a huge impact on working families’ lives, particularly the lives of working mums. A big challenge for working mums, before as well as during the coronavirus crisis, has been how to balance paid work with caring responsibilities. These difficulties have intensified since the crisis began and have damaged women’s equal access to employment. Not having enough childcare for working parents risks reversing decades of progress women have made in the labour market, and increasing the gender pay gap – as well as having a damaging impact on our national economic productivity.” TUC, 4 June 2020,

Furlough for childcare reasons at employers discretion – 71% refused

TUC research "Nearly three-quarters (71%) of working mums who have applied for furlough following the latest school closures have had their requests turned down"

[xvii] Maintained Nursery Schools during first lockdown:

‘During lockdown, according to DfE figures, 71% of state nurseries were open versus 35% of EY settings, and by mid-July, after wider opening, 93% of state nurseries were open compared to 62% of other EY providers. MNS acted as hubs, taking in children from other settings which had closed, as well as supporting vulnerable children and children of critical workers on their own roll. They provided support to parents for home learning during lockdown and kept in contact with vulnerable families at a time when health and social services were unable to provide the usual level of contact. Many went above and beyond their role as schools by delivering food parcels and other practical support to families in need.’

– Maintained nursery schools and COVID-19: vital community services on a cliff-edge, British Association for Early Childhood Education, October 2020,

[xviii] “84% of childcare is delivered by for- profit providers, as opposed to 3% in Germany or 4% in France” – Dominic Barrett-Evans, Dominic and Diana Birlean, Childcare UK Market Report; Fifteenth Edition, London: Laing and Buisson, 2018

[xix] Large commercial childcare chains are less likely to deliver childcare that is accessible for low-income families:

Patterns of provision show large commercial childcare chains are less likely to deliver childcare that is accessible for low-income families, for example research by the LSE (London School of Economics) found that ‘areas with most pre-school places provided through the private sector have the largest gap in take-up between low and higher-income families


[xx] Childcare for NHS workers:

44% of health and care workers in London where covid-19 initially peaked (and 22% nationally) said they did not think that the government had done enough to provide adequate childcare.

In May, the British Medical Association called for financial and logistical support for childcare, from government, to enable critical health workers to continue to perform their roles.

‘Childcare support for doctors must improve: Doctors have been unable to work because they cannot find sufficient childcare, says BMA representative body chair Helena McKeown’, Wednesday 20 May 2020

The private sector itself has noted that it was not sustainably able to provide the ‘4th emergency service’ in supporting nurses and doctors to continue to work.


[xxi] Childcare for ‘critical’ workers:

There were schemes for free childcare for critical workers in Wales, but there has been no government support in England.

[xxi] Asymptomatic transmission:

The government has not published any clear evidence that young children transmit the virus less. Furthermore, an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July 2020, found early years aged children (young children under five) with mild to moderate covid-19 symptoms carry higher viral loads compared to older children and adults, and can be "important drivers" of covid-19.

[xxii] Ofsted records show the number of childcare providers reporting outbreaks has risen from 3 a week in early July, to 829 a week in November:

The first tentative re–openings of early years settings to all children were on 1 June. The latest reported covid-19 cases by registered early years and childcare settings per week, reported to Ofsted, and published by the Government (up to 21 December, published 11 January), show increases in reported cases since July, over doubling each week in September, and peaking in mid November (829).

However, please note that many settings close early in December and will not have been reporting cases while closed. Just one report needs to be made to Ofsted within 14 days, even if there are several cases in one setting, and so these figures show outbreaks, not individual cases:


Stop Press: On 8 February 2021 the latest ‘coronavirus notifications by registered early years and childcare settings’ reported to Ofsted, were published by the Government. The figures show a steep increase in reported outbreaks since opening in June, over doubling each week in September, rising to 829 in mid November, with 1267 outbreaks reported up to the 4 January. The figures over quadruple from 28 December 2020 (582 reports) to 11 January 2021 (2357 reports). On 18 January the reported outbreaks were 2279. The next update is due Monday 22 February.

Early Years Alliance reporting on the increased outbreaks during this recent lockdown:


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