The essential word missing from Boris Johnson’s lockdown speech

Emily Cleary
·5 min read
Screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by PA Video/PA Images via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson appeared to contradict government guidelines on social distancing when discussing childcare at Friday's briefing (PA Video/PA Images via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has unveiled the next stage of his ‘road map’ to ease the UK out of lockdown, but with everything covered from public transport to sporting events, for many parents one key piece of information was missing: childcare.

When Victoria from Tadcaster posed the question during Johnson’s Downing Street press conference on Friday morning of whether grandparents would be allowed to look after children if parents have to return to work, the PM appeared to go against government advice and implied that the one metre distancing rules between two households would not apply in that situation.

Childcare was redefined to exclude relatives caring for children in new coronavirus laws following the Dominic Cummings scandal.

Mr Cummings said he and his wife made the journey when relatives offered to look after their four-year-old son after the couple developed coronavirus symptoms.

At the time, the Health Protection Regulations made it legal to leave home in order “to access critical public services, including childcare” and police found Mr Cummings had not broken the law with the initial journey.

Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, arrives at Downing Street ahead of a cabinet meeting in London, Britain, July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
The rules on who can look after children during lockdown changed after the Dominic Cummings scandal (REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Childcare was not defined in the legislation at the time, but the meaning of the word was narrowed under changes that came into force in June.

That law states that childcare cannot include care provided by relatives. It says: “Relative, in relation to a child, means a grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother or sister, whether of the full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership.”

So what do parents do?

With families allowed to form ‘bubbles’ with one single person, or meet indoors at a distance with people from one other household, informal arrangements of relatives looking after children have resumed for some.

However, government rules dictate that the two households must remain at a one metre distance, something Johnson today appeared to imply could be ignored when it comes to childcare by grandparents.

Leo (C), aged 6, and Espen, aged 3, are assisted by their mother Moira as they navigate online learning resources provided by their infant school in the village of Marsden, near Huddersfield, northern England on March 23, 2020 on the first school day since the nationwide closure of almost all schools except for the children of 'key workers', amidst the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Families across the UK were coming to grips with homeschooling and online resources after the government closed schools to almost all children as a measure to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Parents who can no longer work from home face a dilemma when it comes to childcare (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

For those without support networks of relatives, or whose loved ones are shielding, there has been no offer of financial support if parents have to return to an office setting from 1 August.

A spokesman from No 10 told Yahoo News UK that returning to work would be something that needs to be discussed between the parent and their employer.

He added that parents can form a “support bubble” with one single adult, or meet another household inside at a one metre distance.

When asked what parents without support networks should do he said: “If you’re talking about somebody with no support network at all that seems a very extreme case. It’s something that needs to be arranged between employer and employees.”

Mother-of-two Tolulope Majebi told Yahoo News UK: “From all indications the government is preoccupied with restarting the economy - whatever the costs.

Nursery children have their lunch whilst sitting apart in order to minimise the risk of passing on Coronavirus at Willowpark Primary Academy in Oldham, north-west England on June 18, 2020, as primary schools to recommence education for Reception, Years 1 and Year 6 classes, alongside priority groups. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Many parents have concerns about returning young children to a childcare setting (Photo by Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

“Children are now on holidays and childcare is needed to enable parents and carers to work, but options are limited and parents need to take extra care in where they choose to leave their children, especially if they are in the shielding category.

“We also have to bear in mind that not all employers are able or willing to accommodate work hours to suit childcare needs for this difficult summer, thereby putting working parents in an even more difficult position.”

Tolulope, who has two sons, aged seven and four, added: “It’s not enough to announce that the economy will simply go on as usual, a lot more thought needs to be put into making it practical for working parents to return to work safely.”

The PM’s announcement on Friday ruled that employers can ask staff to return to office and on-site environments, and no longer have to be encouraged to work from home. But for many parents this is not possible without childcare, and concerns around infection still surround sending children into formal childcare settings.

As a result, the childcare industry is facing a crisis unless it receives immediate urgent investment.

Liz Bayram, chief executive at the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, told Yahoo News UK: “The loosening of the bubbles rules means preschools and nurseries will be able to look after more children, but currently most are only working at 40% capacity anyway.

Liz Bayram, cief executive of PACEY, has called for more government support for childcare providers (David Yiu)
Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, has called for more government support for childcare providers (David Yiu)

“Whether parents are unsure of the safety of sending their child into a childcare setting, or they cannot afford it due to the financial impact of COVID, childcare settings are battling to survive.”

Bayram said that while 90% of nurseries, childminders and preschools are operating, 69% predict they will be operating at a loss for the next six months due to social distancing measures and lack of uptake.

One in four expect to face closure this year.

The situation needs immediate action, Bayram told Yahoo News UK. “The arts, zoos, airline companies, they have all received bailouts,” she said. “But there has been no such targeted financial support for childcare providers and the industry is facing a crisis.

“While many childminders, for example, are trying to stay open they have only a third of their usual children attending with huge uncertainties about the future.

Nursery children have their lunch whilst sitting apart in order to minimise the risk of passing on Coronavirus at Willowpark Primary Academy in Oldham, north-west England on June 18, 2020, as primary schools to recommence education for Reception, Years 1 and Year 6 classes, alongside priority groups. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
One in four childcare providers face closure as a result of the coronavirus pandemic (Oli Scarff / AFP)

“Thousands have already missed out on the existing self-employment financial support scheme and with this statement have been excluded once more. What we need is immediate and sustained investment in early years and childcare and not just tinkering with regulatory requirements.

“Without childminders, nurseries and pre-schools, working parents cannot get back to work and children, especially our most disadvantaged, don’t get the best start in life.”

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