Any underfunding of the early years sector in England could unfairly penalise working mothers if childcare services are forced to close and they struggle to return to work, MPs have warned.
A survey, carried out by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Childcare and Early Education, suggests that just 11% of parents believe the current financial settlement on offer to the early years sector is enough for settings to remain financially viable.
The poll, of 1,320 parents in England, also revealed concerns about how underfunded nurseries could shut and affect parents’ ability to work. When asked how they would be affected if their early years setting closed permanently, nearly half said they would need to reduce their working hours (47%), or they would suffer a loss of income (45%).
More than a third (36%) said they would not be able to return to their physical place of work, while nearly one in five (19%) said they would have to quit their job or close their business.
The group is calling on the Government to hold a comprehensive review of early years policy to identify reforms, including to funding streams.
MP Steve Brine, chairman of the APPG, said: “The early years sector is the fourth emergency service.
“Early years professionals have worked tirelessly on the front line during this pandemic, alongside other educators, to seek to minimise the negative effects on the learning and social development of children during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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“They deserve our gratitude and support, but parents have sent us a clear sign that they feel there is much more work to be done.”
Mr Brine added: “The sector is crying out for help to continue doing its vital job in both supporting children and helping their parents return to work and help rebuild our economy.”
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Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance (EYA), said: “Even with the recent shift towards home working, as the survey findings demonstrate, a functioning early years sector remains critical to the ability of parents to return to their workplaces and progress in their careers.
“It’s therefore clear that Government must prevent further early years closures if it is to ensure that the economy as a whole is able to recover post-pandemic.
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“The Government cannot continue to drag its feet on this issue: we need an urgent review of early years funding to enable providers to deliver quality, affordable and sustainable services both now and in the future.
“If the Government wants to make sure parents can continue to work and that every child is able to benefit from high-quality early education and care, then investing in the sector that can deliver both is surely the obvious choice.”
James Bowen, director of policy at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “This Government has repeatedly claimed that the early years is a priority when it comes to educational recovery, and yet what we see is a sector in a financially perilous position.“The closure of nurseries could have a devastating effect on children, families and local communities.
“As the Government looks at how best to support educational recovery, now is the time to properly invest in early years education and to protect nurseries.”
Children and families minister Vicky Ford said: “The majority of parents who used formal childcare before the pandemic told us they would continue to do so as lockdown restrictions eased, which is testament to the hard work of this important sector.
“We are increasing the hourly funding rates paid to councils for the delivery of high quality, free childcare places – this will pay for a rate increase that is higher than the costs nurseries may have faced from the increase to the national living wage this month.
“In total we have spent over £3.5 billion in each of the past three years to support these offers, and over one million disadvantaged two-year-olds have benefited from the 15 hours’ free childcare that we introduced. As part of our £700 million package to provide extra support to children who need it as they return to the classroom, we have invested £18 million to support language development in the early years.”