Following the announcement that nurseries and other early year settings are to remain open during the latest national lockdown, Cllr Keith Orrell has written to Minister for Children to raise concerns about staff safety and lack of financial support for the sector.
The announcement on Monday confirming that early years should remain open during this latest lockdown, has created uncertainty and anxiety for providers and parents. Many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders across York and the country are struggling to remain viable as a result of the combined impact of the pandemic and historic underfunding.
Nurseries have worked tirelessly to put in place safety measures to minimise the spread of the virus and make their settings as safe as possible for staff and children at their own cost. During the autumn term of 2020, the Government provided funding to nurseries, pre-schools and childminders for 'free childcare' places based on pre-Covid attendance levels - however, this support was removed as of the start of January.
Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, with lower numbers of children attending, nurseries have had reduced income, often relying on statutory funding to survive. Providers should not be penalised for families who do not wish their child to attend during a health emergency, or where they need to close due to covid-19 related staff issues (shielding or self-isolating).
Cllr Orrell is urging the Government to target financial support at the early years sector and rethink the recent decision to change early years funding so that it is based on current occupancy rather than pre-Covid occupancy levels. In order to ensure that staff, parents and children can be kept safe all providers should also have affordable access to PPE and priority access to Covid-19 vaccinations.
Cllr Orrell, Executive Member for Children, Young People and Education, commented:
“Early years are being ignored by the Government, despite the sector working as a fourth emergency service throughout the pandemic.
“More should be done to support childcare providers at this time to ensure they are able to remain open and provide that support for children and families who will still need to access childcare places. Demand is already lower than normal due to the pandemic, while enhanced safety measures are seeing running costs rise.
“Early year’s staff are putting themselves on the frontline in the middle of a global pandemic, and failing to offer adequate support for people carrying the huge additional weight of childcare is simply unacceptable. The early years cannot be treated as an afterthought – they need protection and financial support urgently.”