- Paying early years workers more fairly would benefit everyone, people believe
- Most underestimate how expensive UK childcare is compared to other OECD countries
Eight in 10 people in Britain think early years workers are paid too little, according to new polling from the Fairness Foundation. This view unites parents, grandparents and non-parents, men and women and voters across party lines, including parents who are struggling with childcare costs.
People don’t realise how low wages are for people working in the early years sector, overestimating hourly pay by an average of 47% (£10.90 compared to £7.42*). There is a consensus that these workers should be paid more fairly and that to do so would benefit everyone. The solidarity between the public (including parents) and early years workers stands in stark contrast to the discredited notion that there is a zero-sum game between parents focused on affordability and workers focused on better pay.
In addition, two in three are concerned about the costs of early years provision, but they underestimate how expensive UK childcare is compared to other countries. When asked to guess where the UK ranks among OECD countries in terms of childcare costs, the average guess was 14th most expensive out of 38 countries; in reality the UK is the joint most expensive country for childcare in the OECD, with childcare costs accounting for 29% of wages for an average couple with two children.
This polling helps to fill the gap in what we know about public attitudes to workers in the early years sector being severely underpaid (with many workers paid less than the national minimum wage). It also supports arguments that early years workers should be valued as much as other staff in the education sector and that we should pay them enough to get by, with 73% of respondents agreeing with these statements.
Will Snell, chief executive of the Fairness Foundation, said:
“We found very high levels of agreement about pay for early years workers being too low across the British public, with particularly strong agreement among grandparents of young children, people aged over 50 and people who said that the cost of childcare reduces their childcare options or has forced them to leave work or reduce their hours.
“The polling also showed that most people disagree with some of the more commonly cited arguments for keeping wages as they are, such as minimising costs for parents or taxpayers. They want investment and a fairer system that works for everyone, and to be confident that their children are receiving the best quality care and opportunities for development.”
Other key findings from the polling include:
- 2019 Tory voters are in line with the general public in thinking that pay for early years workers is too low (79% in both cases), while 87% of 2019 Labour voters say the same.
- 87% of grandparents with young children also feel that pay for early years workers is too low, alongside 85% of people aged 50 or over, 85% of people who say that childcare costs have reduced their childcare options, and 82% of people who say that childcare costs have forced them or their partner to work less or to stop work entirely.
- More than six in ten respondents agree with arguments in favour of increased government investment in the early years, with Labour voters particularly focused on the importance of early years provision in meeting basic needs (71%) and giving all children fair opportunities (75%), while Tory voters are slightly more focused on ensuring that parents can get back into work (59%).
- Most people are concerned about all aspects of the early years sector in today’s Britain: affordability (67%), equality (63%), availability (60%), sustainability (60%), quality (59%) and flexibility (58%).
Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said:
“We welcome the findings of this research, and particularly that an overwhelming majority of respondents agree that early educators deserve to be paid more.
“Let’s be clear, the early years sector is in the midst of the worst recruitment and retention crisis in recent memory. Early educators are highly skilled professionals who go over and above to provide the very best education and care possible, and yet they continue to be undervalued, underpaid and underappreciated – is it any wonder, therefore, that so many are choosing to leave?
“And while we know that settings desperately want to be able to offer staff pay that reflects their level of knowledge and experience, the shockingly low levels of funding the government provides means this is simply impossible.
“The early years workforce is experiencing its most difficult time in decades, and the sector has reached breaking point. It is vital, therefore that in this week’s Budget, the government puts forward a realistic and long-term plan that prioritises the early years before the sector reaches a point of no return.”
- The full report, Fair pay for critical days, is available online at https://fairnessfoundation.com/critical-days; a PDF version is available at https://fairnessfoundation.sharepoint.com/:b:/g/EXaSr8qLb-lGmoYlc28LNEgBo14OAPYjWhnoh4dmw66efg?e=BkZuVb.
- The Fairness Foundation aims to change the terms of the public debate about fairness, to promote the benefits of a fair society, and to inspire citizens, organisations and decision-makers to create a fairer society. For more information see https://fairnessfoundation.com.
- Fieldwork was carried out by Opinium between 1 and 3 March, with a nationally representative sample of 2,000 GB adults, weighted to nationally representative criteria and various political criteria.
- Demographic breakdowns are available on the report webpage for every answer to every question, covering voting intention, 2019 general election vote, 2016 referendum vote, gender, age, region, ethnicity, level of education, social grade, household income, employment status, children’s and grandchildren’s age, childcare status. The full dataset is at https://fairnessfoundation.sharepoint.com/:x:/g/EUqf1BoF2odHsX-KQU7OvHkBibB-pUSr986xGSVDoWsn0w?e=JhrlVq.
- * The hourly pay statistic of £7.42 is from 2020 and was calculated by the Education Policy Institute in a report for the UK Government’s Social Mobility Commission, whose findings are summarised at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/stability-of-the-early-years-workforce-in-england-report.
- ** This statistic is from OECD data on net childcare costs at https://data.oecd.org/benwage/net-childcare-costs.htm, and is based on a standardised international metric for a couple where one partner earns the average national wage, and the other earns 67% of the average wage.
- Interviews with Will Snell, chief executive of the Fairness Foundation, are available.
- Please contact Becky Slack at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0)7854221568.