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Report says childcare workers are “underpaid, overworked and undervalued”

By Rachel Lawlersocial mobility early years

Early years practitioners are “underpaid, overworked and undervalued” according to a new report from the Social Mobility Commission.

Low pay, long hours
The report highlights the low pay rates in the sector – with workers receiving an average of £7.42 an hour, much less than the average for female workers (£11.37 an hour) and one in eight early years workers earning less than £5 an hour.

Many childcare workers reported working on second jobs to hep make ends meet.

Early years staff were also found to work longer hours than comparable occupations, with 11% of full-time early years staff working more than 42 hours a week, compared to just 3% of retail staff.

Workload and responsibilities
Despite this, early years practitioners often have a high workload and many responsibilities. Many workers said that their work included heavy cleaning tasks such as washing windows and cleaning floors.

Turnover of staff
The report also found that 37% of early years workers leave their employer within two years.

The commission warned that this high turnover of staff has an impact on the quality of service offered by early years providers as well as children’s outcomes.

It also noted that the impact of the coronavirus is likely to worsen these trends.

Lydia Pryor, a pre-school leader from Aldborough, Norfolk, said: “My deputy recently handed in her notice because she found another job that pays more, and I had nothing that could entice her to stay. She’s had enough of just making do and worrying about money when her car breaks down.”

Urgent action needed
The Commission has proposed a “comprehensive career strategy” for the early years sector, including steps to attract older workers into the profession.

It has also called on the government to match the operational costs of providing childcare to take into account the rising minimum wages as well as inflation.

Career structure
Steven Cooper, interim co-chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “We must do everything we can to ensure that childminders and nursery workers are valued more by ensuring that we pay them a decent wage, give them a proper career structure and ensure their workload is reasonable.”

He added that the commission would be pressing the government and employers to take urgent steps to improve the stability of the sector.

Social mobility
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: "We warmly welcome the Social Mobility Commission's call for greater support for the early years sector. Research shows that the first five years of a child's life are absolutely critical for their long-term learning and development - and yet, when it comes to education policy in this country, all too often the early years sector is still seen as the poor relation of schools.

"Years of inadequate government investment into the early years has resulted in unacceptably low salaries across the sector, with many practitioners regularly working long hours for little or no additional pay. Is it any surprise, then, that more and more are opting to leave and seek employment opportunities elsewhere?

"With the huge challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has created for the childcare sector, it's clear that much more government support is needed if providers are going to be able to not just stay afloat, but to continue to recruit and retain quality early years professionals who can deliver quality early years provision as well.

"If the government is truly serious about improving social mobility and children's life chances, there is no better place to start than the early years."

Find out more
Read the Commission's report in full
Labour warns of "perfect storm" for childcare sector