Thank you to everyone who has contacted me to raise concerns for the safety and financial viability of the early education and childcare sector.
The brilliant early years workforce is once again being asked to provide an emergency childcare service during this lockdown, and they must not be punished at the end of it by losing their jobs. Nursery workers, childminders and nannies deserve to know the scientific basis for the decision to keep early years settings open during lockdown, when primaries are closing to most pupils.
I understand that social distancing is impossible when working with young children, and sympathise with the many nursery staff, childminders and nannies who fear for their safety with coronavirus infection rates so high across the country. Early years staff and families of young children also need reassurances about safety at a very worrying time.
I share your concerns that unlike local authority run nurseries, early years staff working in the private, voluntary and independent sector are being asked to go to testing centres. Early years workers are providing an emergency service in lockdown and must be properly protected.
I believe the Government must offer vaccination to key workers in critical professions once the most vulnerable have received their vaccine. On 2 February, the Government advised it was “not considering vaccinating early years workers as a phase one priority at this stage”.
With regard to the financial viability of the sector, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, early years providers ran at a significant loss during the first lockdown, receiving less than £4 of income for every £5 of costs. Though early years providers can remain open in this lockdown, the new restrictions are likely to wipe out much of the demand for childcare, which was already substantially lower than usual. Early years staff and the families they support need urgent reassurances and a proper plan on safety, staffing and funding from the Government.