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Numerous childcare centers have closed due to a shortage of staff, causing The Independent to be informed that Jeremy Hunt’s initiative to increase free childcare for British families will not be successful.
Recent data from Ofsted, the governing body for school inspections, reveals that in the last 12 months, 3,320 out of 62,300 nurseries and childminders for children under the age of five have closed down. This has resulted in a decrease of 17,800 available childcare spots in England.
In March, when the Budget was announced, Hunt promised to assist the sector in preparing for the necessary number of places to meet demand. However, in the following months, numerous nurseries have shut down due to the increasing cost of living and lack of government aid.
According to specialists, the decrease in numbers indicates that the government’s goal of providing 30 hours of complimentary childcare for children under five by 2025 will be unattainable due to challenges in finding and keeping employees.
Families are uncertain about their ability to pay for expensive childcare, with costs exceeding £2,000 per month in certain areas, due to the unresolved state of the provision.
This announcement follows shortly after Mr. Hunt reaffirmed his dedication to launching the initial phase of the rollout in April, as stated in his autumn statement.
Additionally, The Independent can disclose:
The count of childcare centers and programs for children under five has decreased significantly from 84,970 in 2015/2016 to 63,207 in 2022/2023.
According to a study conducted by The University of Leeds and the Early Education and Childcare Coalition, nearly 100,000 additional employees are required to meet Mr. Hunt’s promise.
By the conclusion of 2025, an additional 180,000 spots will be required in order for the implementation to be successful.
This week, the government declared an additional £400m in funding for childcare spots, however, providers are still worried about the shortage of qualified personnel to fill the positions.
Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, expressed disbelief that the government is moving forward with the plan during such a difficult time for the sector.
The Labour party stated that under Conservative leadership, childcare providers have been extremely overwhelmed due to increasing living expenses and challenges in finding employees.
Due to the limited availability of childcare options, Sophie Barnett, a mother of one, shared with The Independent that she will have to travel 60 miles daily, which will take two hours round trip, starting next spring. This is due to the insufficient services offered in her locality.
According to Ms Barnett, a 31-year-old residing in Norfolk and currently on maternity leave, the commute feels like unproductive time that she could be spending with her son.
Ms Barnett, who works in education and events, added: “Sadly, due to local council politics, the local nursery – two miles from where I live and work – closed whilst I was still pregnant.
Considering the expenses for childcare and transportation, I will only be making approximately £30 per week by returning to work. It may seem pointless, but I am passionate about my job, appreciate having time for myself, and aspire to advance in my profession.
Mr Leitch warned the Tories’ “expansion plans are doomed to fail unless the government properly listens to and engages with the sector”. He said it would be a “complete waste of time and money” if they failed to address the shortages before the rollout begins.
He stated that due to lack of funding over the years, services have had to shut down and he contended that the new policy would result in even more providers shutting down.
He stated that we may face parents requesting for certain entitlements and we may not have enough staff to fulfill those requests.
According to Mr. Leitch, his organization, which represents various childcare facilities such as nurseries, pre-schools, and registered childminders, is facing a shortage of staff resulting in long waiting lists for their services.
The Confederation of British Industry predicts that the government’s extended childcare plans will require a budget of £8.9 billion, significantly higher than the £4 billion initially allocated by ministers. This estimate takes into account expenses such as staffing, bills, rent, and resources.
According to Helen Hayes, the Labour party’s spokesperson for children and early years, childcare providers have been overwhelmed by the Conservatives’ policies, facing high expenses and difficulty in hiring qualified employees.
According to previous findings by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), the UK has one of the highest-priced childcare systems globally.
A study conducted by the New Economics Foundation and The Social Guarantee reveals that nearly 50% of children under five are currently living in areas with limited access to childcare, known as “childcare deserts.” This amounts to over 1.5 million children in England residing in regions where there are at least three children for every available early education spot.
According to a study conducted by the organization Pregnant then Screwed, approximately 25% of parents experience wait times of 10 months or longer when trying to enroll their children in a nursery.
Sally Pearce, who assists in managing two nurseries in Sheffield, expressed that both facilities are facing challenges with finding and keeping staff. She stated that inadequate funding makes it challenging to provide competitive salaries.
She mentioned that despite advertising our posts, we receive very few applications and those who do apply often do not meet the necessary qualifications. At times, we even repost the ad but still do not receive suitable applicants.
According to Ms Pearce, a professor at Sheffield Hallam University who focuses on early childhood education, providing proper childcare support for children and their parents has long-term advantages that extend into adulthood. However, she also cautioned that the sector is currently facing a crisis.
She stated that individuals are departing due to the opportunity to earn higher pay with less stress and fewer responsibilities. She also mentioned that there are instances where employees become exhausted and overwhelmed.
According to Lauren Fabianski, who leads Pregnant then Screwed’s campaigns and communications, those working in early years are significantly underpaid, with the majority earning only the minimum wage. In light of the increasing cost of living, many providers are facing financial difficulties and as a result, some have had to shut down.
“We have received reports from distressed parents struggling to secure and finance childcare options that allow them to remain employed. Many families are forced to downsize their living arrangements in order to cover expenses, relocate to areas with available daycare services, or endure long commutes in order to balance everything.”
According to Ellen Broome from Coram Family and Childcare, the government’s proposal to increase free childcare hours will add to the strain on an already overburdened industry and could negatively impact disadvantaged children the most.
A representative from the Department for Education stated that they are implementing the largest investment in childcare that England has ever seen. They believe in the capabilities of the childcare market to provide 30 hours of free childcare for working parents, starting from when their child is nine months old until they begin school.
“The results of this survey contrast with our own research, which indicates that the early years workforce is currently stable. However, we recognize that there is still room for improvement – that’s why we are introducing a national recruitment campaign in the upcoming year and an accelerated apprenticeship program to attract new employees.”