Directly fund nurseries and guarantee provision for all disadvantaged children
Please sign this open letter demanding a protection for those who care for our children
This open letter will be sent to the ministers listed below. Please sign by adding your details below.
“Dear Vicky Ford (Minister for Early Years), Gavin Williamson (Secretary of State for Education), Mims Davis (Minister for Employment), Elizabeth Truss, MP (Minister for Women and Equalities) and Rishi Sunak (Chancellor of the Exchequer),
We are parents, early years workers, childminders, lone parents, and guardians.
We are childcare providers, babysitters, nursery school teachers, SENCos and nannies.
We are grandparents, key workers, NHS workers, critical support.
We are citizens and we are undocumented. We are people that care.
We write because early years policy now impacts public health.
We write because early years policy has always impacted public health.
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 the gaps created by the lack of a coherent early years policy.
Schools have closed but early years settings remain open to all. No evidence has been published to show that early years age children transmit the virus less. Early years workers health is being put at risk. Yet both parents and childcare workers fear closures because there is inadequate support for them to stop work.
Key workers who are parents, often earn under minimum wage, and have been required to work throughout the pandemic. Yet with the early years sector fragmented, and increasingly dominated by multinational chains, providing little flexible and affordable support, they are forced to rely on “informal” (unpaid) childcare arrangements. These arrangements now put family members – frequently grandparents – at risk. With increased transmission rates and covid-19 cases leading to whole nursery closures, the situation only gets worse.
Likewise, the importance of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) support at the earliest age, and the exploitations resulting from the hostile environment, are too often overlooked in terms of sector demands to address what is not a singular childcare crisis, but a number of crises.
The remaining quality early years infrastructure, the small, non-profit, community and cooperative nurseries, council-run day nurseries, and maintained nursery schools are at the point of complete collapse. These settings provide affordable childcare, support for disadvantaged children, children with SEND, and children learning English as a second language. They are struggling due to the culmination of years of underfunding, and insufficient support from government in the face of the pandemic.
If these organisations shut their doors forever, it will cause redundancies of predominantly female workforces, increase unjust employment practices, and mean children lose out on education during the most important stage of their development. There will be dire consequences for the human rights of disabled children, gender equality and the economy.
We call on you to:
1. Close Early Years settings to all but key workers’ children, vulnerable children, and all* children identified with SEND, during this new national lockdown, in line with schools.
2. Prioritise Early Years and Special Educational Needs staff for vaccinations in the next round.
3. Stop relying on parents (especially lone parents) to get us through the public health crisis by working two, or more, jobs at once.
• Ensure a legal right to shared and flexible furlough for all parents/carers in case of childcare due to school or early years settings closures, or because of the need to shield (for worker, or member of worker’s household). Currently this is at the employer’s discretion, and TUC research shows 71% of requests from women during this recent lockdown have been refused.
• Adjust furlough so that it doesn’t fall below Real Living Wage (80% of minimum wage is a starvation wage).
• Make furlough a legal right for all** nannies/childcare workers based in the home, as for setting-based workers (unless supporting vulnerable children, children with SEND, or key workers families), if larger early years settings are closed for public health.
• Clearly communicate these rights, to all employers.
4. Improve the Self Employment Income Support Scheme so that all parents (including those who are recently self-employed, a limited company, or have recently taken maternity leave) are properly supported when they can’t work due to school and early years closures, and so that childminders stop falling through the gaps.
5. Change and increase the funding of Early Years entitlements – so all Ofsted-registered childcare providers (including childminders, public nurseries: nursery schools and council-run nurseries, private and voluntary day nurseries), get a direct payment from DfE (as schools do) to cover the actual costs of staff and overheads. Instead of the current system of payments attached directly to children and allocated based on inadequate costs per childcare place.***
6. Quickly roll out a significant, urgent, and conditional, funding injection for the whole early years sector, which increases local democratic control of settings, with no bailouts of big childcare chains, unless they ensure Real Living Wage, and no dividends or share buy-backs while in receipt of funding.****
7. End No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) – or we will continue to see migrant workers forced to choose between risks to their health and putting food on the table.
8. Improve the rights of those on an Overseas Domestic Worker visa to enable them to renew after six months and change their employer. Many on this visa are victims of ill treatment and these adjustments would stop them from having to stay with bad employers and from becoming ‘overstayers’ – undocumented and at a greater risk of exploitation and abuse.
9. Increase Child Benefit. This benefit used to be universal and once functioned as a small acknowledgement of unpaid childcare work. It is now means-tested and has not risen with inflation since 2011, despite the fact it is a crucial income source for many families.
10. Remove the two-child cap for Child Tax credits and Universal Credit. Stop making parents on Universal Credit pay for their childcare costs up front. Or completely scrap it and come up with a system that actually works for people.
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