Nurseries are at risk of collapse due to 'disgraceful' treatment from Government
Childcare provision, including nurseries, childminders and holiday schemes, is vital to economic recovery, so mothers can go back to work, said the TUC.
The union organisation called for an emergency government bailout for the sector, similar to the financial help given to transport networks.
At least one in four nurseries may struggle to reopen after the lockdown ends, while others could cut their hours or have fewer places because of ongoing social distancing, said the TUC.
The TUC warned that if the childcare they have relied on suddenly becomes unavailable, many mothers could lose their jobs or pay, as they struggle to balance work and care.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Our childcare sector is on the brink of collapse, and it's putting women's jobs on the line.
"If childcare places disappear, women will be pushed out of the workforce.
"Women workers are bearing the brunt of this crisis, both on the frontline and at home.
"Mums have picked up the majority of childcare while nurseries and schools have been closed, and many have had to sacrifice work hours and pay to do so.
"The Government can't stand by while mums are forced out of their jobs. Childcare is necessary if we are going to work our way out of this economic crisis and stop the misery of mass unemployment.
"If we're all in this together, nurseries desperately need Government cash to stay open."
Decades of progress women have made in the labour market could be reversed, and the gender pay gap could increase unless action is taken, said the TUC.
Nurseries are only expecting around a third of children to return this week, prompting calls from nursery managers for the government to provide support.
Nearly three in four nursery leaders expect to operate at a loss over the next three months amid reduced demand and increased costs associated with operating safely, a survey by the National Day Nurseries Association suggests.
Nurseries have implemented a range of measures - including risk assessments and infection control measures - to welcome children back safely.
Mayan Williamson, a manager at Banana Moon Day Nursery in Rothwell, said because of these measures parents are slowly regaining confidence to send their children to nursery.
She said: “We have about a quarter of the children at the moment but it’s increasing week by week. The parents I’ve spoken to seem fairly relaxed about their children coming to nursery. We’ve done risk assessments and shared them with the parents and they know we’ve got a very robust plan in place.
“The kids have been great, they seem to understand what’s going on. We’ve had to make some small changes, for example removing malleable play like Play Doh, but the activities we’re doing with them seem to keep them engaged and happy.”
Kate Hainsworth, board member and diversity lead at the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said childcare was vitally important for the Leeds and West Yorkshire economy.
She said: “We’re doing all we can to help the economy out of this with positive opportunities. A lot of the infrastructure we've depended on for so long is grinding to a halt.
“Being able to access childcare is so important, especially for single parents. For example, we know there are health workers who are struggling to work because of a lack of childcare and we know that single parents are more likely to depend upon schools for meals and are likely to be more vulnerable.”
She added that the LEP had prioritised “inclusive growth” and identifying barriers to work before the pandemic.
Toni Krajnik, who owns the Wise Owl chain of nurseries just outside Doncaster, said she has been forced to take out two large loans to cover losses caused by a lack of government funding.
“We’re in a much worse position now compared with before the crisis because we’re now running at a massive loss.”
She said the government’s new flexible furlough scheme, announced last week, may have helped but her staff at the nurseries she owns are ineligible.
She said: “The rules state that staff have to have been previously furloughed in order to switch to flexible furlough. I kept my staff on, and had them training or doing jobs to improve the nurseries and now I’m in a position where I can’t furlough them because we have some children returning. It’s ridiculous.”
She added that though nurseries are supposed to be funded by the government, the funding comes up short.
She said it costs £5.80 a child per hour to run the nursery but the government only supplies £4.25.
“The way the nurseries sector is treated is disgraceful,” she added.
Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said: “We have been working very closely with the sector as we begin the wider opening of settings, and have provided significant financial and business support to protect them during these unprecedented times.
“It’s testament to the great impact nurseries, preschools and childminders have on children’s education and the reassurance they offer families that so many parents are confident in returning their child to childcare this week.”
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