Doing what’s best for the health of our nation and the health of our sector
Thursday, April 16, 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown is posing many philosophical questions.
Is the virus a response to our wasteful society? Is nature giving us a wake-up call that we are not in command? Is this a challenge to the fragility of our global relationships? Is it a call to return to the days when we produced most of our food and manufactured all that we needed? Or is it simply that the Easter Bunny wanted us to realise that essential workers are those we need to value the most? I am perhaps a bit cynical but I think we have short memories and we will have forgotten this crisis in a year or two, like the floods! Either way, there will be an outbreak of corona books ready for Christmas.
The real heroes of this pandemic are the people to whom our society pays little attention. They are not the celebrities or the powerful businesses, the banks or the rich. They are the small local charities and networks who have come out to volunteer, deliver food and cheer to the elderly at two metres apart. In doing so, they have recognised the needs of the lonely and the vulnerable.
Alongside them, society is kept going by the bus drivers who continue to drive the essential key workers (I love the buses – they are the best – they carry on regardless of the weather), the cleaners who carry on cleaning the hospitals, teachers who opened their schools, the supermarket staff, the delivery drivers, the social workers, the care workers, the nursery staff and those in the utilities sector keeping the lights on.
How have we rewarded them? Well, we have had a mixed reception. After a lot of nudges the nursery, school and the care sector finally got a round of applause. But that came at the same time as being pilloried in the press for closing nurseries and not being available to NHS staff. As an ex-nurse, I am entirely supportive of nursing. Indeed, it was my experience as a night nurse that set the seed in my mind to create an organisation that would eventually become LEYF. It was also good to hear the Prime Minister shout out for the night staff, the invisible quietly footed teams that are often not high in the medical hierarchy.
While the press niggled at our inability to support childcare, our experience on the ground didn’t entirely support these stories. In fact, it contradicted it and we seemed to have a reduction in requests across our 18 nursery hubs. The rest of the sector had similar stories. So, we asked more questions, why are they not taking up places? This is what we found.
Nurses and other essential staff are being asked to do more shifts and longer hours. They cannot afford to pay the upfront fees for childcare because that is not factored into their financial outgoings. This is adding stress and pressure to them. We cannot help them enough because we are hanging by a thread so what should we do? Fund free childcare for essential workers for 12 weeks while we get through this. Reduce the strain and stress and reward them not just with claps but practical help. What do you say? Is this the right thing to do?
LEYF has started a Crowdfunder to help us keep our 18 nurseries open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. If you would like to help us please click here. Thank you so much to everyone who has donated.
June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog was first published on the LEYF website