Financial pressures and staff shortages are forcing nurseries across the UK to close at short notice, leaving parents without childcare. As well as finding it difficult to recruit suitable staff, nurseries are facing growing energy and food costs. The government says it is increasing funding paid to childcare providers, with additional funding for local authorities to increase the hourly rates paid to childcare providers and extra money to support employers with their costs.
But the Early Years Alliance, which represents around 14,000 nursery providers in England alongside its own nurseries, claims that nurseries are facing their biggest crisis in 20 years. Chief Executive of the Alliance Neil Leitch says that under-investment in the sector by the government, as well as increased costs of energy, food and staff, is causing a crisis in the nursery sector.
Parents of three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 free hours per week of childcare. Working families may also be eligible for an additional 15 hours per week of funded early education. But Neil Leitch says this allocation is not adequately funded by the government, leaving providers to make up the shortfall. He also claims that many nurseries are being forced to increase fees for other parents to offset the cost.
An Early Years Alliance survey earlier this year suggested that nearly a third of nurseries were operating at a loss, and more than a third said they expected to be in 12 months' time. Three years ago, the Alliance operated 132 pre-school settings but it now only has 65, with more than half closing for financial reasons.
Campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed said it had received more than 60 messages in recent weeks from mothers whose child's nursery had closed at short notice. A spokesperson for the group said many parents are worried about how they would be able to work without childcare and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to find a nursery with spaces.
The number of childcare providers in England has been falling steadily since 2015, with the number of nurseries and pre-schools dropping by 196 between August 2021 and March this year, according to Ofsted.