Childcare crisis takes its toll on Keynsham mums

PARENTS are continuing their campaign for a solution to the childcare crisis in Keynsham.

A small delegation of mums met local MP Jacob Rees-Mogg at his Keynsham surgery last month to ask what he can do to help.

As previously reported by the Voice, one of the mums, Helen Philpott, organised a letter to Sir Jacob signed by about 140 local parents demanding action.

She has since received updates on efforts by the government and Bath & North East Somerset Council to improve the situation.

But although there have been positive developments, no immediate solution is at hand – prompting one mum to describe how the crisis is taking its toll on new parents.

Carla Brain said: “You’ve sacrificed so much to have a baby and it should be an enjoyable time, but I’m so stressed looking for childcare. All mums are in the same position.”

Carla had to delay her return to work as she could not find anyone to look after her daughter Opal, who is eight months old.

She resumed her role as a business development manager with a skincare company in April then took a month’s leave as she scrambled to secure childcare with family and friends.

Carla put Opal’s name down with several nurseries while pregnant. After a couple of options fell through, she secured two days a week with a provider, but that doesn’t start until September.

She felt disappointed by the meeting with Sir Jacob, feeling he was out of touch with parents’ concerns.

“I think it’s quite deflating the response we got. There’s never any solution.”

She cited the low minimum wage, making it hard to attract nursery staff, as a barrier facing anyone trying to set up a nursery.

“People aren’t going into these jobs because they don’t pay well. They go to supermarkets to get paid more.”

Carla added that statutory maternity pay is also too low to allow mums to stay at home instead of working.

“It’s horrendous for a mother in Keynsham who becomes pregnant and realises they can’t go back to work because they can’t get childcare.”

After the meeting with Sir Jacob, Helen Philpott said: “He did at least listen but wasn’t able to really suggest many solutions.”

Sir Jacob later wrote to Helen saying he had made representations on her behalf to the Secretary of State for Education about the issue and also to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about statutory maternity pay.

Helen has also seen a letter Sir Jacob received from Education Secretary Gillian Keegan before the meeting.

In it, Ms Keegan says: “The government recognises that childcare is particularly important for mothers and their ability to work.”

But she adds: “Local authorities are responsible for the sufficiency of childcare places in their own areas and are therefore best placed to support with concerns of this nature.”

Ms Keegan said the government is providing more money for local authorities to increase the hourly funding rate to childcare providers, including an average 30% rise in the national average hour rate for two-year-olds from September.

She added: “We are ensuring a phased implementation of the expansion to the 30 hours offer to allow the market to develop the necessary capacity.”

Meanwhile, Chris Wilford, Director of Education, Inclusion & Children’s Safeguarding at B&NES Council, has written to Helen outlining the council’s efforts to improve childcare provision.

He said that, as well as the new nursery that is opening at Avon Valley Country Park soon, there are three other potential providers that the council is working with, helping them to search for premises.

He said: “We are acutely aware of provision gaps for 0-2 places. These places require additional staffing levels, which is the main challenge facing the sector across the country. We are actively discussing this issue with existing providers and potential new ones.”

He added that the council has an ongoing campaign to increase the number of childminders.

“I realise this doesn’t provide an immediate solution for residents currently looking for childcare. However, we are doing what we can.”

Helen said Keynsham’s birth rate rose 40% between 2010-11 and 2021-22, with the largest increase in the past five years, a period when the town lost two nurseries.

“This begs the question, why have B&NES – or whoever is responsible – not been proactive in solving a problem that the data very clearly shows has been a long time coming?”

She added: “I feel a bit deflated that I’ve now exhausted all options and the way forward is still very unclear. It definitely doesn’t feel like a problem that is high on anyone’s agenda.”

Pictured, Carla Brain with husband Scott and their baby daughter Opal