Childcare for All Campaign – Childcare critical to families and economy
The co-convenors of the Childcare for All Campaign are calling for funding allocated to support the childcare sector in Northern Ireland at this time to be made available urgently to all settings that need it, and for the needs of parents, children, the childcare workforce and our economy as a whole to be reflected in further recovery planning for the sector. While significant work has been put into a financial support package, we know that some providers and parents have expressed their frustration that just 5% of that money has so far been allocated and called for this to be addressed: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-53083774 Daily, we are speaking with parents who worry that they will be unable to access the care they need and with childcare providers who are anxious about their future. Access to childcare is necessary for people who are working from home as much as for those who are moving back out into the workplace - and a key component of any pathway to recovery. This is why we and others across the sector are advocating for continued support for the sector to ensure that it is sustainable. Rachel Powell, Women’s Sector Lobbyist, WRDA has said: “The Childcare for All campaign, alongside the wider childcare sector and women’s sector, have been consistently raising our concerns over the absence of adequate childcare provisions during the COVID-19 lockdown; and in the road to recovery. We know that 40% of working households have dependant children, and that the majority of caring responsibilities often fall to women. In addition to this, Northern Ireland faces gender-segregated labour markets, as the vast majority of retail and hospitality sector, childcare sector and health and social care sector workforces are women. Many women are in low-paid, part-time or precarious work and the absence of adequate childcare provisions will act as a barrier for many in returning to work, or force some families to risk their health and safety. For too long, childcare has been considered a private issue, when we know it is of crucial importance to our workforce, society and economy. COVID-19 has exacerbated the existing concerns of childcare providers in Northern Ireland, and as we move towards a recovery, we cannot return to a status quo where childcare is not treated as a part of our essential infrastructure and families face barriers to the workforce. It is clear that we need representation from the women’s sector, and childcare sector, to support the Executive in moving forward with recovery planning.” Aoife Hamilton, Policy and Information Manager, Employers For Childcare has said: "It is absolutely right that we see childcare getting attention publicly and that Ministers recognise the importance of the childcare sector in enabling economic recovery. But it shouldn’t take a global healthcare crisis to put our vital childcare sector in the spotlight, we have long been making the case for increased investment in childcare to ensure it is accessible and affordable for all parents while being sustainable for providers to deliver. This is true now more than ever. Childcare is a vital part of our economic infrastructure – it is essential that we take this opportunity to ensure it is properly and practically supported, both now and into the future. We have been working hard with Government to make this case, and have been sharing the views and experiences of those childcare providers and parents who have told us their concerns, and we look forward to hearing more later today on how the Executive plans to support the sector through its Recovery Strategy." We know there is much work going on across Government on the issue of childcare and there have been some important developments including a gradual expansion of the definition of 'key worker' for the purposes of who can access childcare, and guidance published last week to assist settings that are re-opening. This guidance, along with advice for parents and childcare providers on financial support at this time, is published on the Family Support NI website: https://www.familysupportni.gov.uk/Support/91/covid19-latest-advice-for-childcare-providers-key-workers-looking-for-childcare
More, however, is needed to ensure the childcare needs of everyone in the Northern Ireland workforce are at the forefront of planning to ensure parents and providers are not facing unnecessary risks or barriers to work. It is crucial that more detail is given in the coming days on how childcare will be further opened up and supported, so that parents, childcare providers and employers can plan for their own progress through the stages of the Executive's Recovery Plan. The Childcare for All campaign will continue to raise the needs of parents, providers and employers in line with any moves to ease the COVID-19 lockdown.