While families are counting the
pennies pounds as fuel price increases are looming, nurseries will have even bigger worries about keeping their heating on too. There won’t be the option to simply hand out some extra jumpers and hot water bottles, though, as early years settings struggle to make ends meet this autumn.
Many nurseries have, sadly, already had to close their doors as the years of dwindling funds became too impossible to bear. Early years have been hit by a loss of earnings during COVID lockdowns, years of asking for more funding for the free hours for 2 and 3-year-olds, and now hikes in energy bills while they were struggling to get back on their feet.
If more nurseries close down, as is predicted by many sources, it is parents who will then suffer from a lack of good quality child care choices in their area. This will have a knock-on effect for many families and could then follow with more parents, particularly mothers, leaving work, or cutting down working hours, to care for their children at home. After years of lockdowns and uncertainty, this certainly spells for trouble in the coming years.
So far, the majority of nursery closures have been in some of the country’s most deprived areas, where a loss of Sure Start centres has also been having an impact. A Nuffield Health study found that Sure Start programmes did result in major health benefits for children in poorer neighbourhoods. It will be a while before we can find out the results of losing both Sure Start and high quality child care provision in many areas, but it is likely the impact will not be positive.
Funding for early years settings this year has risen by 3.8% but this still falls well below the rate of inflation, which sits around 10.1%. Nurseries need to rely on steady funding, being at full capacity, and being able to rota staff effectively to ensure they are as lean as possible, in income terms. But this is easier said than done.
We, at eyworks, have always aimed to provide the best tools for our nurseries to help them to stay on top of their funding and income/expenditure at all times. We cannot solve the issue, however, of nurseries struggling to pay essential bills such as gas and electric – although we will keep working with our customers to see how our tools can assist them further in reducing unnecessary costs and streamlining paperwork.
With parents struggling to make ends meet we know that they are also turning to their nursery community for support in many areas, and we know that early years settings are stepping in to plug the gaps wherever they can.
We have heard of nurseries leaving racks of coats outside for parents to take to help out in the winter. Asking parents to donate old coats as children grow out of them helps to provide for the younger children growing up in these difficult times.
Another nursery we know is handing out packed lunches to any families who need help feeding their children – not even just for their own families but for any local families who need a helping hand. Term time or holidays. Some are also handing out hot drinks to parents at the morning drop off, to save them boiling kettles at home or missing a luxury coffee from a cafe. All small ways to help parents to feel the pinch a little less. We commend all of these actions and hearing about them is always very heartwarming.
But this then leads on to the next question…who will help the nurseries and other childcare settings? Childminders, after school clubs, and schools will all feel the difference in their bills this winter. With staffing being the highest cost budget item for all settings this is likely to also impact on staffing cuts and then everyone loses out. While the government has launched a consultation on changes to staff:children ratios, there is very little appetite in the industry for this, it seems. Childcare providers already feel their staff are stretched and do not want them to leave if pressure mounts on them. Parents are also reluctant as they may feel their child does not have the same 1:1 time as before, and any cost saving is unlikely to be possible to pass on to parents in the current financial climate.
We wish this was a more optimistic blog to start the new academic year, but sadly this is the reality we are faced with right now and we know many of our customers are finding things tricky whilst also working tirelessly to support their families. We praise every single one of you.
As the term moves forward we can only hope that this impending crisis is averted and new support is announced for nurseries and small businesses, as well as for the families they serve.