Claire Kenyon co-founder of Early
Early Years Equality protest the Government’s childcare policy
Claire Kenyon, one of the founders of Early Years Equality, shares more about the association’s campaign and what they would like to see instigated for the sector ahead of their demonstration next month.
For the past few months, Early Years Equality have been lobbying politicians and working with fellow nursery providers to fight for fairer Government funding for early years. We are a new campaign group which formed to take drastic action over the increasingly precarious situation nurseries found themselves in. Each of us brings something different to the table. Jeanette has a legal/ business background, Claire Kenyon junior is organised and diligent and keeps us all together (and is so very lovely and calm), and Claire Kenyon senior (no relation!) is deeply passionate about children’s rights. The main premise of Early Years Equality is to advocate for the right of ALL preschool children to receive high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC). The UK Government does not look at this issue from the perspective of children and what is best for them. It looks at it purely from the view of enabling more parents, especially mothers, to return to work and contribute to the economy. Early Years Equality believes these two goals should NOT be mutually exclusive. There have been lots of changes since we started the group, most importantly the extension of the 30 hours ‘ free’ care to all children under five. We strongly feel this was part of a political strategy which used early years as a pawn to win votes. Unfortunately this was how ‘ free childcare’ began, and it has never been funded properly.
Current Government policy of ‘affordable childcare’ is damaging. It is slowly but surely killing off the early years sector, demeaning to those professionals who have chosen early childhood education and care as their career. It does not have children’s best interests at heart and is misleading to parents/carers. Early years professionals are increasingly pressurised, especially after Covid and the issues emerging post-lockdown with children, yet they are treated as baby-sitters. The funding does not allow for a proper salary structure within settings, or proper professional progression and recognition. Staff are abandoning the sector in droves. The UK spends just 0.5 per cent of GDP on ECEC, one of the lowest in OECD countries, and half of the UNICEF recommended benchmark of one per cent. This mirrors the details of the Freedom of Information request made by the Early Years Alliance, which suggest our funding would, in many instances, need to be double its current level to meet inflation. Rather than honor this report, the government has made a mockery of the situation by extending the offer to all children under five years old.
High-quality, child-focused ECEC cannot be cheap and it certainly cannot be free for parents at the rate paid by the government. We need to therefore change the narrative from ‘the UK has the most expensive childcare in Europe’ to ‘the UK has the least subsidised/
‘We need to change the narrative from ‘the UK has the most expensive childcare in Europe’ to ‘the UK has the least subsidised/funded early childhood education and care sector in Europe.’
funded early childhood education and care sector in Europe’. The fault lies fairly and squarely with Government.
Our professionals deserve to be invested in, trained and supported, which ultimately benefits all children. The background of historically-low Government funding, which is increasing by around five per cent and National Minimum Wage increases of almost ten per cent (both Government-issued) creates a lose-lose environment for us all. Being called a ‘childcare worker’ has possibly damaged the status of those working with young children, as it doesn’t take into account the training and knowledge needed to competently and confidently work effectively with under fiveyear-olds. We will be joining other early years providers and staff protesting outside Downing Street on Saturday 24 June, and this is just the beginning.
So what can you do? Join us on 24 June to protest! Buses are being organised from locations around the country. Encourage colleagues to come too, and raise awareness with the families in your settings. The more the merrier! Parents are a huge voting cohort and important to get onside. Please help to spread this message through parent/mums’ groups, professional groups and further afield. Share with your colleagues and get in touch with us through our website. Lasty, write to your MP! This may seem like a drop in the ocean but the more drops we have, the more ripples we will make. It can work! eye
6 • eye • May 2023 • Volume 23 No 22