Headlines of 2021 are full of Covid-19, death toll, R rates and the increasing pressure on our frontline NHS staff, and rightfully so, our NHS and all of our frontline health workers are doing an incredible job in the most dire circumstances, but are being under-appreciated and overlooked by our Government when it comes to pay rises and financial support.
But what about the other frontline that has been completely overlooked by those in parliament? Not only overlooked, but completely forgotten it would seem.
As Boris Johnson announced the UK’s third national lockdown earlier this month, the entire sector held their breath as he finally succumbed to closing schools (to all those apart from keyworker and vulnerable children).
Yet Early Years remained (and still remains) open for all despite the impossible notion of social distancing, the increased need for personal and intimate care and not taking into consideration that the 0-5 age group have been identified as one of the most asymptomatic age groups.
Nonetheless, our sector was told to continue as normal, continue to provide care as we have been doing throughout the pandemic.
Then comes the funding crisis, inconsistencies from borough to borough as councils decide to withdraw financial support for settings with non-attenders, funding threatened for settings up and down the UK, but still, Early Years appears not to register on the Government’s radar as a priority.
In recent weeks, Early Years bubbles up and down the country have been ‘popped’ and closure forced upon them as a result of rising case numbers, staff sickness and/or self-isolation, and for many, through no fault of their own as a result of the financial impact the previous lockdowns have had on their setting as a business.
Then comes the welcome news of the vaccine rollout begin to come into fruition, as it’s declared Early Years will remain open for all and the vaccine roll out will prioritise the 4 critical groups, many of us were left wondering where we would fit within these categories due to the increasing risks we face in our settings every day, but put simply, we do not.
The vast majority of those working within our sector do not meet the required criteria for the initial vaccine rollout, but are still expected to go to work every day, with no PPE and no guarantee of an imminent vaccination. Yet without us, many of the UK’s critical workers could not go to work, so why are we so low in the Government’s agenda?
Are the risks to our sector less than in other sectors or workplaces? Science says no, and many would argue that they are even greater, so why do we not get the same recognition and support?
Many Early Years settings and businesses had only just begun to recover from the financial impacts of closing, furlough and funding issues as a result of the first wave of Coronavirus, and the picture is even bleaker this time around; many settings, remaining open for all children cannot adequately staff their settings due to sickness or self-isolation, and many staff are too terrified of risks and have submitted their section 44 letter (Employers Rights Act 1996) to their employers, leaving our settings open for high volumes of children, with limited staffing capacity to function.
For many practitioners, they go to work every day in scared of the potential risks to themselves and then the potential of taking these risks home to their own families, and for many childminders, the fear is even greater as we actively open our homes to this virus every day, thus putting our own families at direct risk of infection.
The uproar the most recent Government decisions have caused seem to have gone unnoticed, and we have a terrified workforce that are very much needed to provide the love, care and education we are renowned for, but have no guarantee or even consideration for their safety and wellbeing from the Government.
So what happens to us? How does our sector recover from this? Not only the logistical and financial implications on settings as businesses, but on the health and wellbeing of the sector?
In Early Years, we are proud to be on the frontline and providing high quality care and education to our youngest children, we are not work shy, we do not take our positions in the fight against Coronavirus lightly, we want to remain open and continue to keep life and routines consistent for our children, but we are all worried; for our health and the wider implications and risks we pose to our families, but also we feel let down by our Government.
As a sector, we are not asking for a lot, we are merely asking to be recognised and supported, to have the same rights in regards to access to testing and vaccines; so that we can continue to provide exceptional care, education and service, but with the added recognition, support and acknowledgement of the vital work we do and the reduced risk to our own health as a result.