If we need childcare to reopen the UK economy, why is it so undervalued?

Christine Berry - The Guardian

In this opinion piece for the Guardian, Christine Berry explores the ways in which child care work is undervalued and underfunded, despite the economy's dependence on childcare both paid and unpaid, and notes that, while the coronavirus lockdowns expose these issues, little attention is being paid.

Berry writes that the closure of schools and nurseries should have brought more light to these issues but that "the burdens of lockdown childcare have been quietly absorbed in the home, disproportionately by women." Berry notes that the coronavirus lockdowns should have led to greater realisation among governments, employers, and society overall that "without paid care and education, the formal economy would grind to a halt. Everyone would realise how utterly dependent we are on childcare, both paid and unpaid. Pressure would grow to address the chronic underfunding of early years provision and the poor pay and conditions of childcare workers, and to recognise the burden of care work in the home."

The author calls for schools and nurseries not to reopen until it is safe. "But to make this possible, parents will need to be properly supported to care for their children at home. They must have the right to paid time off work and the resources for distance learning. Childcare settings need more financial support to remain viable, ideally with strings attached to drive up the quality of early-years care. And when all this is over, there must be a reckoning: on government funding of early years, on pay and conditions for childcare workers, on workplace rights such as shared parental leave. We must demand better for ourselves and our children – and we must do it together."