Importance of childcare more important than ever as employees can return to the workplace
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that Government advice will be updated from 1 August and, instead of requiring anyone who can work from home to do so, employers will be given more discretion to make decisions about how their staff can work safely. While for many, this may continue to involve working from home, some employers, where they are confident that they can provide a safe workplace, will decide to bring staff back.
Challenge of returning to the workplace without access to childcare
While we welcome ongoing moves towards the reopening of society and the economy, the Prime Minister and all of those across Government must recognise the challenges that returning to the workplace presents for parents who will require access to affordable childcare, and for employers as they seek to balance the needs of their staff with the requirements of their business.
Some childcare providers remain closed, or are operating at reduced capacity, and there are few holiday or summer schemes in operation meaning not all parents will have access to the childcare they need. Some parents will be reluctant to rely on family members as they did before, due to health concerns.
All of this is before adding in the complications of a return to school in September that may necessitate part-time attendance along with continued home schooling in a ‘blended’ learning approach, presenting additional challenges for parents. Some may require access to formal childcare for the first time, or need full time childcare when before they relied on part time care to wraparound the school day. As well as presenting financial concerns for families, this presents a logistical challenge at an already stressful time.
Flexibility from employers
It is already clear that a flexible approach will be required by employers, to facilitate parents as they address these issues. But we know that for many key sectors, such as healthcare, retail and manufacturing, it is much more difficult to put flexible working arrangements in place, or to facilitate continued working from home, and employers – as much as parents – will be relying on our vital childcare infrastructure.
Investment in strategic forward planning needed alongside financial investment
It is critical that childcare is included in all Governmental plans for recovery, right across the UK. Many providers were struggling with their sustainability even before COVID-19, and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, while also demonstrating starkly just how vital our childcare sector is to the economy, and society more broadly. Investment is urgently needed, to ensure that parents can access the childcare they need to allow them to continue to work – whether that is from home or as they return to the workplace – and to safeguard the future sustainability of our essential childcare sector.
Alongside financial investment we need a strategic approach to ensure that all childcare settings – from day nurseries and out of school providers through to childminders – can achieve the required occupancy levels to secure their sustainability, that the quality of care and early education remains high, and that this is affordable for parents to access. Otherwise, we could see widespread closures across the sector, parents faced with no option but to reduce their working hours or leave the workforce altogether, and an increase in levels of child and family poverty.
Investing in childcare is the key to unlocking the potential for our society and our economy to recover from the impact of COVID19. Without that key, the door to recovery may remain firmly closed.
Advice and guidance
Parents, childcare providers and employers can contact our charity’s Family Benefits Advice Service for free, impartial and confidential information. Freephone 0800 028 3008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.