Decline in childminders blamed on poor pay

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The number of childminders in England has fallen by 30,000 in a sign of a growing shortage of people willing to work as undervalued carers, a study today concludes.

The number of childminders in England has fallen by 30,000 in a sign of a growing shortage of people willing to work as undervalued carers, a study today concludes.

Professor Peter Moss, a specialist in early childhood provision, said yesterday that the 30 per cent decline in the number of registered childminders was part of a much bigger recruitment crisis in social care.

Despite the growing demand for child care to help working parents, and for people to look after the elderly and disabled, the jobs are so poorly paid and of such low status that traditional recruits are finding work elsewhere, the professor said.

In a study published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation today, he shows that the number of registered childminders has fallen by 30,000 to 76,000 in 2000, from 106,000 in 1992, a drop of almost a third. Part of the reason for the decline is the job's low pay and poor status, according to the researcher, who says that childminders earn, on average, £103 for a 34-hour week. Most do not get paid holidays and many have insecure and unpredictable incomes because parents can suddenly reduce their hours.

While childminders find their work very satisfying and are generally deeply committed, almost all of them feel undervalued by others and do not feel they are doing "proper jobs", the study says. It also stresses that women with few qualifications, who have traditionally filled the roles of childminders and carers, can now find alternative jobs offering the same flexibility over working hours but better pay.

These include jobs in the service sector, such as on supermarket checkouts, where wages can be 50 per cent more or even double the average of £3 an hour for child care.

The findings come at a time when the Government is attempting to fulfil a promise to provide a million extra childcare places by 2004 and recruit 150,000 childcare workers.

But Professor Moss, who works for the Thomas Coram Research Unit at London's Institute of Education, said the Government needed to do more to tackle the shrinking supply of labour in social care. "Childminding largely depends on women being prepared to work at home for low wages. The declining number of childminders suggests the present situation is unsustainable."

He added: "The fall in the number of childminders could be seen as a sign of the increasing crisis across the care-work field. The big issue is who is going to do care work in the future, whether it is looking after granny or looking after the baby?"

The National Childminding Association (NCMA) insisted that the decline in the number of childminders had bottomed out, with a recent surge in new members. The charity said it had alerted ministers to the decline in numbers two years ago, and that since then a range of Government measures had been taken, including the introduction of start-up grants for childminders.

But Gill Haynes, the chief executive of the NCMA, said: "Although the issue of recruiting new childminders has been addressed, there is still a major problem in keeping experienced childminders.

"If childminder numbers are to stabilise and grow, the issue of low pay has to be tackled and there needs to be a level playing field for childminders."

The Department for Education and Employment said £35m was being invested in the recruitment and support of more childminders, and there were signs that the decline was being reversed. "We believe it is vital that childminder numbers grow as they provide a popular and flexible childcare option for working parents, and our investment shows a clear commitment to ensuring this happens," a spokesman said.