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Third of nurseries in poorest areas could shut forever because of coronavirus, ministers are warned

69% of nurseries and childminding settings expect to run at a loss over the next six months. (PA)

3 min read

A third of all nurseries in the UK’s most deprived areas could shut down forever because of the financial toll of the coronavirus crisis, the Government has been warned.

New research by the Sutton Trust think tank said some of the country’s most vulnerable children had dropped “off the radar” during lockdown.

And it found that 34% of all nursery providers in the country’s poorest areas are “unlikely to still be operating next year”.

That compares to 24% for the least deprived areas, with the Sutton Trust warning that the crisis would only “deepen existing patterns of vulnerability and under-achievement”.

The research finds that while more than two-thirds (68%) of parents of 2-4 year olds accessed nursery, childminding or school services before lockdown was imposed, just 7% of that group continued to attend once the curbs came into force.

By June, 83% of those who were attending before lockdown had still not returned their child to nursery or childminding, amid worries over the virus and a lack of access.

The researchers warned that the loss of contact with early education services was “likely to have serious effects on all children, but particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, widening already existing school readiness gaps”.

And while parents had turned to online and television support services during lockdown, middle class parents were more likely than working class ones to have been given support by their provider.

Vulnerable children and those with special educational needs are, the Sutton Trust warns, ”most likely to be struggling, but many have dropped off the radar without regular attendance at their provider, despite the efforts of many providers to support such children remotely”.

More providers in deprived areas  (36%) have remained open than those in the least deprived areas (30%), a move the Sutton Trust say has played a “strong role in creating local support networks”.

But nursery and childminding services have suffered “significant financial pressures” despite making use of government support including the furlough scheme and business rates relief.

The research finds that 69% of nurseries and childminding settings expect to run at a loss over the next six months — while 42% of settings in the most deprived areas expect they could have to make redundancies because of the financial squeeze.

“Such pressures are coming on top of a sector that was already struggling financially, and with an over- stretched and frequently under-qualified workforce,” the Sutton Trust said.

“A support package is urgently needed, in particular for providers serving disadvantaged communities who need support the most, in order to protect the early learning prospects of a generation of children.”

Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s shadow minister for children and early years, said: “The Government needs to wake up to the reality that many thousands of essential childcare places could be lost unless it steps in with a properly funded plan to save the early years sector.”

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