Boris Johnson never cared about childcare until he needed an excuse to save Dominic Cummings

With businesses facing uncertain futures, the pressure on parents who can work from home has increased just as their ability to focus on work has been diminished. This crisis has largely been ignored by the government

Tulip Siddiq
Wednesday 27 May 2020 14:09
Comments
Coronavirus: Matt Hancock 'That's a good question.. I'll answer it later' on reviewing fines for travel for childcare

In one sense, it was refreshing to hear the prime minister talk about his chief adviser’s “very severe childcare difficulties” at the Downing Street press conference on Sunday. The excuses for Dominic Cummings’ trips to Durham and Barnard Castle are far from convincing, but what is certainly true is that Covid-19 has caused huge problems for those who need childcare.

Boris Johnson and all his cronies are emphasising the “exceptional circumstances” that Cummings supposedly faced when he feared that both he and his wife would get sick and there would be no one to care for their four-year-old child. I can tell you from experience that these are very challenging circumstances indeed – but they are far from exceptional. I would invite the prime minister to log on to any of the Facebook groups for parents and read about the everyday dilemma that we – and particularly mothers – have of falling ill and not being able to look after our children.

I was in a similar situation a few years ago, when my husband and I caught norovirus while we had a screaming, teething baby to deal with. We took turns throwing up and calming her flaring gums.

Too much information? I’m sure every parent reading this will have a wry smile on their lips.

We knew that norovirus was contagious, so we decided not to call the elderly grandparents for help and instead struggled through it. Of course we hated every minute. And with Covid-19 being potentially much worse, and longer lasting, I don’t envy anyone who has gone through this experience. However, it is an insult to parents who have made sacrifices to follow the rules to pretend that these are “exceptional circumstances” which justify a long trip to a second home.

The fact that the prime minister has felt able to rewrite the guidance on childcare to save his right-hand man shows just how little thought was put into this in the first place. Schools and nurseries have been shut to most children since March. Millions of parents have been forced to take very difficult decisions if they get sick and juggle full-time work with childcare and home schooling. Two-fifths of grandparents over the age of 50 usually help with childcare in normal times, but the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the elderly means that this is no longer a safe option.

With many businesses facing uncertain futures, the pressure on parents who can work from home has increased, just as their ability to focus on work has been massively diminished.

This crisis in childcare has largely been ignored by the government – until it could be used as a convenient excuse for its advisers to break the rules, that is. It certainly wasn’t on the prime minister’s mind when he announced earlier this month that more people could now go back to work outside the home, apparently without any plan for how their children would be looked after.

This isn’t just a short-term problem that will resolve itself when things go back to normal. Childcare providers themselves are facing an existential threat after a decade of underfunding and the huge loss of income in this crisis. Three-quarters of nurseries, childminders and other early years providers feel they haven’t had enough support during lockdown; the result is that more than half have already been forced to close, and a quarter fear they will not survive.

If the government doesn’t step in to save this vital sector, thousands of childcare places could be lost forever. This would be devastating for working families, not to mention the impact on the education and prospects of young children.

It is unfortunate that it’s taken a desperate attempt to justify Dominic Cummings blatant rule-breaking for the government to start talking about the importance of childcare. Hopefully the prime minister’s newfound interest in the subject will lead to change – and I will keep banging the drum about this until working families get the support they deserve.

Tulip Siddiq is Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and shadow minister for children and early years

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in