Calls grow for childcare workers to earn £15 an hour minimum wage and to end zero-hour contracts

‘Caring for and educating young children is skilled work, and the overwhelmingly female workforce deserves decent pay and conditions.’ 

Nurseries and childminders in England have warned of a recruitment and funding crisis, which could derail plans to provide 15 subsidised hours of childcare a week to all two-year-olds in England from April 2024. From September, 15 hours of childcare funding will be extended to working parents of children from the age of 9 months to 3 years. As of September 2025, 30 free hours will be available to all under-fives.

Research suggests that 50,000 more staff may be required to accommodate the increased demand the 15 free hours will put on childcare facilities when it is offered to babies from the age of 9 months later this year.

As childcare providers have not yet been informed what rate of funding they will receive from the subsidised hours by their local authority, thousands of parents who have applied for the funding have been left in limbo. Facilities have been inundated with calls from families looking for places.

Amid the staffing concerns, on February 2, the government announced it was offering £1,000 to new childcare staff in 20 areas. However, the announcement has been criticised by unions, which believe it does not go far enough.

Low pay in the sector has been attributed to the staffing crisis. Analysis by the TUC shows that more than three in five (62 percent) of childcare assistants and practitioners earn below the real Living Wage of £10.90 an hour.  More than three in five social care workers and senior care workers earn less than the real Living Wage. Social care workers earn only around 65 percent of the median salary for all employees (£21,500 per annum compared to £33,000). And childcare practitioners earn only 56 percent of the median salary for all employees (£18,400), while childcare assistants earn 58 percent of the median wage (£19,000). 

The TUC is calling on the government to introduce a £15 per hour minimum wage for nursery and childcare workers and to end the practice of zero-hour contracts. In August, the union body called for a comprehensive strategy for the care workforce in England. Its analysis showed that every region of the country is in a childcare recruitment crisis, but is worse in the East of England, the West Midlands, and the North East, where all councils said childcare providers found it ‘very difficult’ to recruit enough staff the with the right skills and experience. 

In response to the government’s £1,000 bonus incentive to for new recruits in the sector, Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary, referred to the move as ‘too little, too late.’

“It does nothing to address the retention crisis in childcare, or this Tory government’s chronic underfunding of the childcare sector over the last 13 years,” said Nowak.

“Caring for and educating young children is skilled work, and the overwhelmingly female workforce deserves decent pay and conditions. 

“Ministers must introduce a £15 an hour minimum wage for childcare workers, and work with unions to upskill staff and stop the race to the bottom on pay and conditions. 

“And they should require childcare employers to end the use of zero-hours contracts and pay decent sick pay to all workers,” Nowak added.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: YouTube screen grab

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