There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about when nurseries can open again. The prime minister mentioned schools in his statement setting out his ‘roadmap for easing lockdown’ but said nothing about nurseries.
We all know how important nurseries are, both for children’s development and enabling parents to work. This is particularly so for people in Camberwell and Peckham and our nurseries are greatly valued.
Under the Coronavirus bill passed by parliament in March, the government instructed nurseries to close during the COVID-19 lockdown to adhere to social distancing guidance and help halt the spread of the virus. Only those caring for vulnerable children and the children of key workers were allowed to stay open. Of the 114 nurseries in Southwark, just 20 remain open.
I have been contacted by parents and nurseries in Camberwell and Peckham desperately worried about the long term future because of the lack of clarity from the government on what financial help is available to them throughout the crisis, and the absence of any indication of how long they will be required to stay closed.
Nurseries in Camberwell and Peckham were already financially very precarious before the Corona crisis. For years low income families have had to subsidise this government’s lack of investment in childcare provision. Nurseries’ unexpected and significant loss of income due to Covid is putting serious pressure on already overstretched budgets. Nurseries are experiencing unsustainable losses through no fault of their own and some tell me they expect to lose half of their income.
I have offered every nursery that has had to close in Camberwell and Peckham my support and asked whether they are confident that they will indeed be able to re-open at the end of the lockdown, whether they and their staff are getting the financial help they need, or if they are being forced to rely on bank loans.
Without knowing what support will be available nurseries tell me it’s impossible to plan ahead and to give their staff the assurances they need about their pay and job security. Many fear they will shut permanently, as staff will be forced to leave the profession to find alternative income.
I’m calling on the chancellor to create a special ‘nursery fund’ to ensure our invaluable nursery provision survives this lockdown and that nurseries will still be there to reopen as soon as the restrictions are lifted. The government has put in place a special fund for zoos. They should do so for nurseries because if the government does not commit to a significant financial package of support for early years providers they may not survive this crisis.
This would be disastrous for parents and the entire economy as without childcare millions of people will be unable to start going back to work as the lockdown eases.
The Corona crisis has exposed the problems in nursery provision that were already there. Increasingly people are realising that childcare is the missing part of the welfare state – a product of an old reality decades ago, where it was assumed women did not get to go out to work, but stayed home to look after children. As we emerge out of this crisis we need a universal free childcare system to give all children a great start, reflect the reality of working parents’ lives today and liberate parents from the expense and worry of juggling home and work.
There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about when nurseries can open again. The prime minister mentioned schools in his statement setting out his ‘roadmap for easing lockdown’ but...
Read my third Coronavirus Crisis Report here.
Read my third Coronavirus Crisis Report here.
Read my second Coronavirus Crisis Report here.
In the face of this unprecedented Coronavirus crisis the government is rightly telling people to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus, to protect our NHS and to save lives.
However for many families in Camberwell and Peckham this is much harder than it is for others. Camberwell and Peckham has, of all the constituencies in the country, the highest number of families living in council or housing association flats. It is really hard for parents with young children who live in small flats with no outside space. During this lockdown here’s no nursery or play group and no chance to pop round to hang out with a group of friends. For these families it’s crucial to have the opportunity to spend one hour getting a breath of fresh air and for the children to be able to run around.
We have wonderful green spaces in Camberwell and Peckham, from big areas like Burgess Park and Peckham Rye to little gems like St Giles Churchyard and Lucas Gardens. But as it the weather gets hotter they’re getting more crowded. Our parks are a precious public asset. In this lockdown they need to be for those who need them most, local people who don’t have gardens.
I’m suggesting that there should be a rota for our public green spaces. So that you would know that on a particular day your estate would have priority on a park.
What about advising those who live in houses with gardens not to use the parks? They can use their own gardens and walk on the streets.
And what about having a radical extension of road closures? There is so little traffic. Side roads could be closed except for access. That would take the pressure off the parks as people could walk in the street instead of crowding onto pavements. It’s hard to keep 2 meters apart when you are wheeling your buggy on a narrow pavement. And a rota would reduce the danger of the few cars that are on the road speeding dangerously because of the lack of traffic. Let’s give the roads over to people walking and cycling.
Most people are abiding by the social distancing rules. The police are there to check up on those who don't. Let’s make this lockdown more bearable for children cooped up in flats by giving them the freedom of our parks and let’s make out streets safer by giving children, not cars, priority in our streets.
In the face of this unprecedented Coronavirus crisis the government is rightly telling people to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus, to protect our NHS and to...
Careworkers might not be the first people we think of when we picture our vital workers leading the fight against Coronavirus. But they are very much on the frontline looking after the most vulnerable and to do their job they have to be in close physical contact with those for whom they are caring and their co-workers.
There are 8 residential homes care in Camberwell and Peckham and I’ve contacted them telling them how much we value their work and offering to take up any of their concerns. I was dismayed to hear that staff feel that they don’t have the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need to protect the elderly people they help, or keep themselves and their families safe, that there are shortages of staff as people have to self isolate and that the government is not properly focussed on them.
Even before the Coronavirus hit, years of government funding cuts, outsourcing and privatisation had already left the care sector and it’s staff at breaking point. But with this deadly virus we are now seeing the full tragedy of the cuts and neglect play out.
Carers are unappreciated and underpaid, often on zero hours contracts, without entitlement to holidays or sick pay. If they don’t go into work, they don’t get paid.
This does not help prevent the spread of the virus. One careworker told me she worries every day about whether it’s better for her to come into work fearing she could spread the virus to the vulnerable people she helps, or to stay at home, which would compromise safe staffing levels and the quality of care.
Carers tell me they are worried that because they do not come under NHS management they will be forgotten in the Government’s testing programme of critical healthcare staff.
A number of staff said they’d been turned away from supermarkets during the early access hours for health workers because their ID badges are not NHS, and by the time they finish their shifts the shelves are empty.
I’m pressing the Government to treat dedicated staff working in our already overstretched social care sector with the same priority as frontline staff in hospitals.
All care workers must urgently be given adequate and effective Personal Protective Equipment, be included in the testing programme and the Government must issue guidance to supermarkets to ensure they recognise and prioritise care home staff for online shops and designated early hours. Before Coronavirus struck there were already vacancies for social care workers. If we don’t protect carers, as they protect society's most vulnerable, we risk losing more of this vital workforce over the coming weeks, and potentially for good.
The social care sector and its workforce have been taken for granted for too long. The Coronavirus crisis has exposed how vital they are.
When this pandemic is over one of the Government’s first priorities must be to create a National Care Service, like our NHS.
And in the meantime, every Thursday, I’ll be clapping for our care workers as well as our indispensable NHS.
Careworkers might not be the first people we think of when we picture our vital workers leading the fight against Coronavirus. But they are very much on the frontline looking...
Read my Coronavirus Crisis Report 1 - 2nd April 2020 here