Nurseries that have demanded cash-strapped families continue to pay full fees, despite being closed to all but children of essential workers, have been accused of trying to profit from the coronavirus crisis.
Parents expressed shock after early-years centres told them they must continue to make full payments – often running to more than £1,000 a month – or risk losing places when they fully reopen.
The demand constitutes a double hit for many families where at least one parent has had to reduce work hours in order to look after toddlers now forced to be kept at home.
The issue has caused such consternation that it has now been raised in a letter to the government by Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson and leadership candidate.
“Families should not be pushed into unnecessary hardship by having to pay fees for nurseries that are closed,” she says, while asking education secretary Gavin Williamson to offer enough financial support to ensure child care institutions can survive the crisis without continuing to charge full fees.
“Nurseries provide a vital leg of our welfare state – giving children the best start in life and helping parents get out to work,” she says. “But the government’s efforts [during the pandemic] have not stopped nurseries from begging parents to pay fees of more than £1,000 a month. They know that if they don’t get the money, they won’t stay afloat.
“Ministers should not be pitting parents and childcare providers against each other.”
The intervention comes as a petition was launched on change.org by disgruntled mother-of-one Carla Turnbull from Bristol.
“While I agree that some fees do need to be charged in order to pay their staff and rent, I don’t agree that they should be charging full fees,” she writes. “If the nursery is closed then they are no longer paying for food, resources, materials and less on utility bills. Their in-comings far outweigh their outgoings. Therefore, they will be making a profit at this time of crisis.”
Parents in Sheffield, Sale and London are among those who have told The Independent they have been asked to cough up in full for at least the next two months.
The National Day Nursery Association said that it was only a small number of centres making such demands, but appeared to defend the practice anyway.
Purnima Tanuku, its chief executive, said: “Childcare providers need to ensure they have enough income to keep the business running and be able to re-open with a full complement of staff once all parents can go back to work.”
She added: “Nurseries are vital now as ever to support children of key workers and vulnerable children so we need them to be staffed and operational.
“They need to be able to pay their staff to maintain continuity when this settles down. Recruitment is already a major issue in the sector and nurseries do not want to lose their committed, trained staff. The government financial support is welcome but it’s only part of their income.”