Letter: Labour demands answers over nurseries remaining open

Tulip Siddiq, Shadow Early Years Minister, writes to the Government about the decision to keep early years settings open during England's lockdown.

Dear Vicky Ford MP,

Following the announcement that early years settings will remain open in England during the new national lockdown, I am writing to share some questions and concerns that will be on the minds of early years workers and families with young children at a very worrying time.

Firstly, I urge you to set out clearly and in detail the scientific basis of the decision to keep nurseries open when primary schools are moving to remote learning on grounds of public health, and publish any scientific evidence on this with details of any consultation.

As you will be aware, social distancing is impossible when working with young children, and many nursery staff, childminders and nannies will fear for their safety with coronavirus infection rates so high across the country.

I therefore ask the following questions:

  • Will the decision to keep early years settings open during this national lockdown be kept under review or considered only when the lockdown is reviewed in mid-February?
  • Will the Government commit to regular testing of staff in all open early years settings, including Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) providers?
  • What consideration has the Government given to extending the Covid workforce fund to early years providers, many of whom have been struggling with staff absences?
  • What additional PPE and support will be made available to nurseries and childminders?

Secondly, I would be grateful if you could clarify exactly who will be able to use early years provision during the lockdown. Will there be any limitations on attendance for children whose parents aren’t key workers or those who don’t meet the vulnerability criteria? Will primary age children be permitted to attend, and can baby and toddler groups go ahead? Also, will maintained nursery schools and pre-schools that are linked to primary schools be able to remain open in the same way as other childcare providers, and should they do so?

Lastly, and extremely importantly, I urge the Government to target financial support at the early years sector and rethink the misguided decision to change early years funding from this month so that it is based on current occupancy rather than pre-Covid occupancy levels.

Childcare settings ran at a significant loss during the last lockdown, receiving less than £4 of income for every £5 of costs according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). 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.

Allowing early years settings to stay open will not be enough to ensure their survival, as there were already 20,000 providers at risk of closure within six months after the Spring term funding changes. To proceed with these changes would be a death knell for many nurseries and childminding businesses, and I urge you to rethink this now completely untenable decision.

Early years providers and staff are once again being asked to provide an emergency childcare service during this lockdown – they must not be punished for doing so.

I look forward to hearing from you, and I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you again (virtually) to discuss these issues further.

Yours sincerely,

Tulip Siddiq MP, Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years

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