Mayor John Biggs and Cllr Asma Begum have written to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, outlining their concern about the lack of proper financial support for childcare settings during lockdown in Tower Hamlets and called on the government to step in with a financial lifeline.
Since the onset on the pandemic, early years providers have seen a significant decline in demand for places but remain largely ineligible for business support packages because they have remained open. From January, the government withdrew funding being used to block-buy Free Early Education Entitlement places based on providers’ income from an equivalent non-COVID term, leaving providers facing huge shortfalls in income.
The Mayor and Cllr Begum outlined that providers in Tower Hamlets, which rely on government-funded free entitlements, now face closure because of this decision. The local disappearance of childcare threatens the economic recovery once lockdown restrictions are lifted as without access to childcare services, parents will not be able to return to the workplace or access training. This will also have an impact on social mobility as in the borough as low-income families who rely on free childcare places will be most affected.
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “I’m disappointed at the government’s short-sighted decision to end the block buying of places this year despite clear warnings from the sector. Without further support early years providers in Tower Hamlets face decimation which will leave families without vital childcare services once they can return to work.”
Cllr Asma Begum, Cabinet Member for Children, Youth Services and Education, said: “Our local early years sector is fighting for survival after the government withdrew support during a national lockdown. Parents, who are understandably keeping their children at home, are very worried about what will happen if services close and they can’t access childcare once the lockdown is over.”
The letter sent to the Chancellor:
We are concerned about the lack of proper national financial support for our childcare settings in Tower Hamlets during this very difficult time. Sadly, many early years providers both locally and nationally face closure because of the insufficient financial provision made by you for our very youngest children living in disadvantage in this borough. We previously wrote to the DfE about this issue in December.
By the time lockdown begins to ease, the government’s decision to revert to funding following the child will have forced local childcare providers to close. This means that low income workers who are currently furloughed, such as those in transport and service industries, will be unable to return to work because of a lack of accessible childcare. Most parents in Tower Hamlets rely on the free entitlement to childcare and it is these childcare places which will disappear. Clearly, this will have a negative impact on social mobility and the economy.
In addition to having disastrous effects on employment in Tower Hamlets, the permanent disappearance of free childcare places threatens the economic recovery of London and other major cities.
We would also like to highlight that the recently announced £44m uplift in the hourly rate for entitlement funding equates to an additional 5p per child. With 1:8 staff-to-child ratios required for 3-4-year olds, this increase doesn’t even cover this April’s minimum wage increase of 71p for 23 and 24-year old workers and is therefore a real-terms cut in funding.
With this in mind, it’s vital that the government reverts to last year’s structure of block buying places in order to prevent the collapse of our local early years sector and enable our residents to return to work once lockdown restrictions ease.
We look forward to your response.