Publication of Northern Ireland’s Pathway to Recovery
Today (Tuesday 2 March 2021) the Northern Ireland Executive published its plan setting out how Covid-19 restrictions will be eased over the coming weeks and months, including the gradual opening up of educational, social, retail and business spaces. This is intended to avoid future cycles of easing and tightening of restrictions.
Unlike a similar plan for England, the Northern Ireland plan does not include specific dates. It does, however, state that the aim of the Executive is for the return of all children to face-to-face learning in schools to begin following the Easter holidays, depending on levels of community transmission.
The plan, which is available here, sets out five steps across nine sectors – including home and community, education and work – giving examples of what each step will mean for that sector. Importantly, some sectors may progress through the steps more quickly than others, depending on a range of evidence. The dates for formal reviews by the Executive are identified as 16 March; 15 April; 13 May; 10 June.
Step one of the plan represents the current restrictions in place, with steps two to four setting out a gradual easing of rules – including children returning to the classroom, groups of people allowed to meet socially, the resumption of Sure Start and ‘extended schools’ activity, and a relaxation of restrictions on workplace attendance and meetings – ahead of step five which is about preparing the future.
While we welcome the publication of a pathway, some have expressed frustration at the absence of dates making planning very difficult. This will still leave families, businesses and others with potentially more questions than answers. For employers, the plan outlines a phased return to onsite work and office spaces and a return from Step 3 with further easing allowing more workplaces to return at Step 4 and workplaces to be fully reopen at Step 5.
It is important to note that the childcare sector has remained open throughout the most recent lockdown restrictions and continues to provide a critical service for families across Northern Ireland. While an extension to the Covid-19 Temporary Closure Fund has already been announced, it is essential now that we see an urgent announcement on further financial support to assist in the longer-term recovery and survival of our childcare sector which will be critical to the achievement of progress across the steps of the Pathway to Recovery.
With more workplaces set to reopen over coming months in line with the steps set out in the plan, many parents will be planning for a return to a more ‘normal’ working arrangement. For some, this may mean increased requirement for formal childcare. If you are likely to need childcare in the near future we would encourage you to take action now, as it is anticipated there will be an increased demand for places as the economy reopens. To help, we’ve published a useful article on help with childcare costs and requesting flexible working arrangements, read it here.
Help is available at this challenging time
This has been an exceptionally challenging time for families across Northern Ireland, with many experiencing financial hardship as a direct result of the pandemic. Please contact our Family Benefits Advice Service if you have questions in relation to financial support you may be eligible for, and your work-related entitlements. Freephone 0800 028 3008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for personalised advice based on your own unique circumstances.