analysis exclusive: coronavirus study
Virus forced childcare providers
Covid has seen professionals cut staff, use reserves and even sell belongings, but researchers
Covid drives ‘substantial’
number of childminders into poverty Four in ten nurseries relied on reserves
Childminders and nannies resorted to selling personal belongings and borrowing money from family and friends to boost their income during the height of the pandemic.
New research into early years care and education during Covid-19 by Leeds University reveals the financial impact of the pandemic on providers and the lengths they took to increase their household income due to salary losses.
Measures included selling personal possessions such as cars, borrowing money and applying for universal credit for childminders and nannies, while nurseries drew on reserves, changed staff contract conditions and took on debt.
Dr Katy Hardy, lead author with Professor Jill Tomlinson, told Nursery World, ‘It is well known that many of the issues identified preceded the pandemic, but Covid-19 has served to accelerate really serious problems relating to sustainability, morale and access.
‘A care-led recovery is vital for addressing these issues for workers, children and parents alike. We know that underinvesting in early years only stores up problems – and costs – for the future.
‘Conversely, investing in these first critical years of children’s lives and the people who provide their education and care can intervene to address future social, health and economic issues even before they emerge.’ The research, funded by the ESRC, is based on a survey of more than 2,000 nursery managers, childminders and nannies during Wave 1 of the
Covid has accelerated serious sustainability and access issues pandemic (December 2020) and nearly 1,400 during Wave 2 (July 2021). A number of in-depth interviews were also carried out with childcare providers.
Researchers also surveyed around 2,000 parents over both Covid-19 waves and carried out interviews. The report – Essential but undervalued: early years care & education during COVID-19 – suggests the pandemic likely placed a ‘substantial’ proportion of childminders below the poverty line, with 32 per cent earning less than £10,000 in 2020/21. This was largely due to a fall in child numbers and hours.
Between the pre-pandemic financial year, 2018/19 to 2020/21, there was a more than two-fold increase in the proportion of respondents earning less than £10,000 a year. In the same timeframe, mean income decreased from £17,532 in 2018/2019 to £14,340 in 2020/21.
According to the research, which compares data from the first (2020) and second wave (2021) of the pandemic, during the first lockdown, six out of ten childminders received no fees from parents and 14 per cent were paid at a reduced rate.
David, a childminder from Bristol, said, ‘We were entirely dependent on the goodwill of parents to pay when they didn’t have to. If any of them said no, we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.’ While the findings suggest there was widespread take up of the Government’s Self Employment Income Support scheme (SEISS), with threequarters of childminders in England and Wales benefitting [according to the survey], 25 per cent were unable to access the scheme, mainly because they were ineligible or did not think they were eligible.
Despite good take up of the SEISS by childminders, three-quarters of those who took part in the research said the grant was not sufficient to replace their usual income, pushing many into poverty.
To address salary shortfalls, 38 per cent of childminders dipped into personal savings, 21 per cent sold personal belongings and 33 per cent had to rely on their partner’s income.
One childminder reported having to sell their car to make ends meet.
Lack of sick pay was also an issue for childminders, according to the research, as well as not being considered a ‘key’ or ‘critical worker’ by the Government during lockdown periods, unlike nursery and teaching staff. For some childminders with their own children, the latter prevented them from working.
One childminder from London said, ‘The head teacher, in the end, came round and said
Table 1: Actions taken by nurseries to remain financially viable in Wave 1
Changed staff contract conditions
Took on debt
Permanently cut staff
Sourced additional grant funding
Non-renewal of temporary staff
Reduced the number of state-funded places available
Number (Overall total = 821) Percentage
6 | NurseryWorld | March 2022