The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave Contents

Annex 2: Summary of follow-up public engagement

To hear more about how the coronavirus outbreak had affected options for childcare, we sent out two surveys. One was focused on parents, how their options had changed due to the pandemic, what their concerns were about sending their children to different settings, and what arrangements their employers could offer if they had difficulties returning to work as expected as a result.225

The second survey asked childcare providers, both business operators and employees, to tell us how the sector had been affected, and how they viewed their ability to offer childcare options in both the short and longer term. We also asked them about the UK Government plans and guidance for early years settings to reopen to children on 1 June, and how these would affect their ability to operate. A separate petition that had also gathered over 100,000 signatures calling for the Government to “Give UK nurseries emergency funding if they have to close down amid COVID-19” had already indicated that those within the sector had significant concerns for the future.226


We revived over 12,000 responses from parents about returning to work, and more than 4,000 from those working in the childcare sector to our survey asking for their views.


As with the earlier survey, we used Nvivo Pro 12 to identify and contextualise the most common words and phrases found in the entire set of responses from the surveys. This allowed us to group and summarise recurring themes which were threaded throughout much of the responses.

In addition to this analysis of the data, Committee staff manually reviewed hundreds of individual comments and answers, using both subject searches and randomised selection. Some of the survey questions which produced statistical results have been included in the summaries of key themes, or graphically where appropriate in the report.

Key themes

We have summarised the key themes below and illustrated them with quotes from respondents.

Options for childcare



“I will not be wanting my child to be attending nursery for two reasons, he will be mixing with children who could be carriers, but also I will be working for the nhs and potentially be a carrier myself and would not want him to be taking it to the nursery either”

“I am worried that a nursery carer or another baby/child could pass the virus on to my baby.”

“I am afraid of my baby and my family’s health. Babies put everything in their mouths! It’s impossible to avoid risks of infection of coronavirus in this scenario.”

“I worry I will be limited to nurseries that are open rather than where I would want to send my child.”

“The first visits and settling sessions are crucial to the child-setting-parent relationship. Parents will naturally be more cautious about going to a new setting. Mine is a home from home childminding setting, so I don’t think I am likely to have any new starters for a long time, due to the restrictions of social distancing.”

“Our biggest concern is not the settling in for the babies, as babies in particular are often the easiest to settle, it’s the parents who tend to benefit from the settling in sessions. Whereas for toddlers over 1 years of age, as the child is more aware of their surroundings, yet have the added difficulty of communicating, the settling in sessions tend to benefit both the child and parent equally.”

“She has had no opportunity to socialise with other people and has never met another baby. I worry very much about her wellbeing thrust into this unfamiliar and busy environment being used to only being in our home with me. It would be noisy and terrifying for her. How could I leave her there. I won’t be using childcare until I know she is confident.”

“I disagree about PPE. It says that childcare workers do not need it. We need it, we change nappies, help with feeding toilet training, cuddles etc.”

“Babies and toddlers put everything in their mouths and that is a natural part of their development. Everyday I come home from nursery covered in saliva and snot from the babies I care for in my room and that is usually fine but not when that saliva and snot could be carrying coronavirus that could kill me or my family when I walk it through my front door.”

“On paper it seems like it [the guidance] will be effective but when you think about putting it into practice with children so young that you realise it’s all a shambles - the people who wrote it have clearly never worked in a nursery, or they would know that babies and toddlers cannot social distance.”

“Small groups is the safest way, space will only allow 50% of our children to return but we will need the same staff which we simply can’t afford with current financial support.”

“you want to know that when you are at work that your baby is happy and safe. Being able to introduce different settings and different people to babies at a young age is a vital part of this reassurance to you the mother. Given the current situation I fear that I may have no other choice but to not to return to a career that I thoroughly enjoy and have worked so hard to achieve. Whilst I appreciate the government has done the furlough scheme, again women on maternity leave have been given the short straw. SMP is appalling especially compared to how much other people are currently being paid whilst also being at home at this current time.”

“Young children resetting in after being away for weeks, parents not allowed in building to settle child just being handed over at the door- this will be extremely stressful for child, parent & staff.”

“How is a prospective parent supposed to make an informed choice without visiting the setting looking around having a meeting! For the child’s settling having parent and child visits pre school can sometimes be scary for young children often the first time leaving a parent and you are expecting them just to be handed over at the door that is detrimental to their emotional development and in turn will delay further support we can offer the child and parent!”

“I have missed out on taking my baby out to play areas, groups and sensory due to being concerned for his health since Feb, he has missed seeing family and friends too. This can have a negative effect on a baby and now I’m due back to work but unable to due to lack of childcare which leaves me with no pay. I would also like to mirror a comment from above regarding dental. I need to see a dentist and am currently unable to but as stated above it will be a nightmare to get an appointment now before he turns 1.”

Grandparents and other relatives


“Grandparents would have had our child once a week however as a midwife and my husband a police officer we are key workers and would be putting them at risk. My sister was going to have our baby one day a week but her daughter has had a heart transplant, she is extremely high risk, due to the nature of both our jobs we could not risk passing covid on to their family household via our child.”

“I now do not feel comfortable asking my nan to look after my son 3 days a week when he is at childminders 2 days with other children and not socially distancing, putting her at risk when she is in the vulnerable category”

“My mother who was supposed to look after my daughter is a key worker for the NHS and hasn’t been near my daughter for 8 weeks for fear of passing on the virus therefore I cannot leave her in her care to enable me to return to work”

“grandparents were to be main source of childcare with potentially 1 or 2 days a week at a private nursery. if baby is unable to go to grandparents, and currently baby does not know grandparents as she has not spent any time with them for 7+ weeks, this will obviously change my plans. Also i am not sure how easy it will be to find a nursery in the current situation. if this is still ongoing when i am due back at work i will consider requesting additional unpaid leave.”

“Grandparents over 70, uncertain if they will still be isolating”

Other childcare options


“I am unable to use grandparents because of shielding. We may not be able to afford private nursery now. So we are looking into a nanny type option for both children because it will be cheaper.”

“Childminders are cheaper and have less children, may suit my working hours better”

“Family and friends make up all of my child care. As we can no longer see these i have no options available to me. Private nurseys in my area which would not work as i have a 9 month and a 10 year old are not taking on new children”

“Considering nanny/au pair so only my child is being cared for as opposed to multiple children”

“Fear of picking up the virus at nursery and spreading it to grandparents who are all vulnerable. Mother is also asthmatic and considered in a danger group. Finding an au pair or nanny may minimise some of this risk”

“Concerned about impact of social distancing in nurseries and potential for increased costs. Am thinking more about alternative options such as childminder or au pair than I was before.”

Returning to work


“I was an NHS employee so could not be furloughed but my local nursery is closed and grandparents who were due to look after my daughter are currently unable to do so due to lockdown rules, so I had to resign.”

“I am a key worker, so work are keen to have me back asap. Financially I cannot afford not to work, we have used a lot of savings already”

“I am a teacher and work in a Reception class I am expected to be back as planned with no chance/ choice to extend my leave. The nursery I had chosen is closed and my parents have not seen my daughter since the start of lockdown so are basically strangers to her.”

“My only option is to take full maternity leave and be unpaid for the last 12 weeks. My partner has lost his job as a result of coronavirus so this might not be financially feasible for us.”

“Delayed returning to work (with absolutely no pay!) I need to find a suitable nursery for my little one before I return to work, i cannot do this due to lockdown. Leaving me extremely financially worse off and struggling to pay my mortgage and bills”

“My line manager is furloughed so I’ve heard nothing”

“I have tried to contact my employer several times regarding my maternity leave and have had no response. I have not heard from them since I started my maternity leave.”

“If I choose to extend my maternity, there is a strong possibility that my role will no longer be available for me to return into as it will exceed 12 months. I would see no option but to return to work, and my husband and I having to use a mixture of holiday and unpaid leave to care for our child until we can find a suitable alternative”

“My employer has offered me zero help, I’m a support worker who is 30 weeks pregnant and started my maternity at 29 weeks because no help or alternative was offered to me and we have had 7 COVID deaths within the home. I’m so gutted it means missing time when my baby arrives!”

Unpaid leave


“My current plan was to take 9 months off until stat pay was reduced to zero. This would mean I am due to return to work back in early October. I could extend my leave for an additional 3 months but I cannot afford to do this on zero pay.”

“...I opted for the 9 month maternity leave as can’t afford 3 months unpaid as much as I’d 100% love to be off with my new born and even more so now with this coronavirus seeing as we’ve missed out introducing her to so much already and meeting people.”

“The only option to me at the moment is if I extend my current maternity leave...i only planned to take 39 weeks originally as this is paid...this can be extended to 52 weeks but is unpaid by the government. I couldn’t afford to do this, without borrowing money. It is something I am now having to consider. Just don’t think I can afford it. If I was being furloughed, like many others I’d be getting 80% of my wage, currently SMP only pays one 3rd of my usual wage. It’s really tough to get by.”

“I can take more months off unpaid but we can’t afford it as a family and I need to go back to work but don’t feel comfortable putting my daughter in nursery as she has on been around me and my partner.”

“No option to extend leave other than taking it unpaid which I am unable to do as cannot afford to do this.”

“Only option is the 3 months unpaid which as a family we cannot afford”

“Could not afford unpaid leave if that was offered.”

“I am a teacher. Although understanding, my boss has not offered any more time off or financial support. We have not got childcare sorted due to nurseries not taking viewings and my husband has been furloughed”

“The unpaid leave, with a self employed husband, would also mean that we possibly wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage or childcare when I did return to work (we have no family with 70 miles to help with this). This would create even more stress. I am so very worried.”

“I work for the NHS front line.

I feel that I should go back to work ASAP but feel that i should protect my family as my baby was 10 weeks premature.

My husband also has been furloughed so money is tight. I am contemplating extending leave however due to hospital pressure I feel this will be rejected.”

“My husband and I are both key workers working for the police. We therefore cannot work from home. We cannot afford to be on unpaid leave so I have to return to work after nine months’ maternity leave. I could stay off work for a further three months to take the full twelve months maternity pay but as the final three months are completely unpaid we can’t afford for me to do this.”

“I have chosen to take 9 months maternity as this is paid leave. I have the option to extend my maternity leave by 3 months but this would be unpaid. We could not afford 3 months with no second income as my husbands’ income does not cover the bills. I am stuck between the choice of the safety of my family or being homeless. A choice I believe I shouldn’t have to make.”

Redundancy risks & financial challenges


“Nothing discussed with my employer, they are currently working through global redundancies so would likely be offered an unpaid extension If requested”

“My company have not offered me anything at the moment. However I work for an airline so I am now worried I will be […] made redundant […] My husband […] is at risk of job loss. He is only earning 64% now and I am on unpaid maternity.”

“There has been no discussion with my employer. I had always planned to take the maximum period of maternity leave. I do not want to take any unpaid leave on top of this as the last person who did that was made to work fewer days and made redundant upon their return (pre corona and as part of a wider consultation)”

“My work is going through making people redundant due to coronavirus I’m awaiting to find out if my job is affected. Obviously this effects me and my family majorly as I would have had a job to go back to and bring in an income but now I would have to fight against a lot of people to find a new job and probably not at a wage of what I was on before whilst paying for 2 children to be put into childcare. This is probably not feasible as I would earn less than what I’m paying in fees. Therefore I would have to take a year out until my eldest is on free childcare which will not be good for my mental health or for my children’s development of not attending care.”

“My employer has currently offered no options to extend leave. The company made a late number of people redundant rather than furloughed, and my concern is if I go back to work too early I’ll lose my job entirely. I’m worried about asking for part time hours also, in case they can’t accommodate that and I lose my job. This would then leave our family down by one persons income, which puts a stress on all of us.”

“Due to the coronavirus we have now had a change in our organisational structure and redundancies meaning everyone kept on would have to take a 20% pay cut meaning less money for child care”

“No options offered, there is a lot of uncertainty as my husband is currently furloughed but likely to be made redundant”

“[…]I also can’t afford not to go back to work. I find myself in a real dilemma and worried this will affect my mental health. I am a key worker for the NHS mental health services and wondering how I will do my job properly if my mental health is affected due to childcare and money issues.”

“[…]I have no choice but to take the unpaid maternity leave to look after my family and keep them all safe and to do this we are going to really struggle financially.”

Challenges for early years settings

Reopening – timing and guidance


“There has been little to no sufficient guidance for supporting staff and children classed as “clinically vulnerable” even though they can return to work and settings. They will be the most at risk going back but at these settings it is impossible to protect and distance them safely, why are they required to return to education settings where it cannot feasibly happen?

Overall, it is apparent to Nursery settings that it is going to be a struggle, nigh on impossible, to offer full protection to the children and staff according to government guidelines.”

“I work in a preschool with 5 members of staff and 18 children no bigger than my living room! We can not social distance in there. My manager won’t allow us to wear face masks due to scaring the children. It’s a confined space so I think ppe is required at all times. I get that children are of low risk to covid but that doesn’t include the staff and their families!”

“95% of our families have requested care from June rather than delaying start so I disagree when they say demand will be lower. Small groups with no cross over goes against everything I believe in. I feel that this will have negative impacts on children’s well-being.”

“In principle some of it makes sense, but implementing sufficient changes just does not seem possible to me.”

Financial impact


“We tried to stay open for key workers but lost £1k per week and had to close. Our furlough costs aren’t being met and our fixes costs are accruing debt with little income. We may struggle to reopen with the costs of preparing and reduced attendance”

“It is safer to have less children and I am sure many of my parents won’t want or need their children to return. We will have to see the response from our parents. However, this will mean more overheads and less fees. We may have to make staff redundant or they will have to live on less furlough money as we can’t afford to pay them the full salary any longer”

“Schools are given extra funding to manage cleaning etc however nurseries are overlooked for such support.”

“Early years providers are on their knees, listen to the sector / NDNA!!! We are under funded yet expected just to get on with it. The sector continues to not get the support or recognition it deserves and needs to remain sustainable”

“The funding rate does not cover the costs of delivering the early education and the shortfall has to be made up from somewhere, so the private fees will have to be increased as a result. If the policy were changed so funded hours could be offered as subsidised hours, then the shortfall could be met by a top up from the parents of funded children, rather than the whole burden being placed on the private fee payers.”

“Opening up and paying all bills with limited children will probably bankrupt us”

“Our demand hasn’t been lower but we’ve had to drop our spaces from 42 a day to 28 a day and because of the priority for 3 & 4 year olds this means we are losing a huge amount of income daily because it’s my fee paying children I will have to turn away.”

“A lot of parents have or are being made redundant so i think there will be less people returning or looking for childcare.”

“Staff are nervous, parents are nervous. The new normal is very scary and we aren’t 100% sure how this is going to work- if we even survive this financially.”

“If necessary to reduce room numbers then economy of scale is lost. Additional costs due to PPE, the usual protective childcare materials increased in cost and more difficult to access. Additional cost (staff & material) to implement the necessary cleaning protocol. Additional staff to receive children and restrict carers entering the building. Additional 7% wages bill to recover due to revision of minimum wage in April.”

“There are increased costs associated with operating safely, including the deep cleaning of nurseries and the provision of PPE to workers who need it. Schools can claim back money for these costs, but childcare providers can’t. Indications are that occupancy will be much reduced and there are associated costs with cancelling contracts and redundancies. Some cost such as Insurance premiums will rise. We have fallen through the gaps on many of the schemes to support businesses. Therefore we need to consider all options for business viability”

“We were closed by the government with no notice. We had no LA support to stay open, there were no ‘hubs’ there was no PPE. Our insurance did not pay out. Our furlough was affected by early years funding (still fees, because childcare was never free.)

Our funding was then taken from us. We received less than a third of what was due to us, despite the whole figure used against our furlough claim. I had to get a loan to survive. I may have to let staff go, and the business may not survive.”

“The virus should not be used as a means of covering up the gross under-funding of nurseries. The virus has only exacerbated an already difficult situation. The Government needs to look seriously at how it fund nurseries and listen to what nursery experts are telling them just like they are listening to the scientists now! They say they believe in competition and then they stifle it in the nursery sector by them deciding how much they will pay per hour, what the children to staff ratios (these are arbitrary numbers and have no scientific basis) are and then pay the rate for 39 of the 52 weeks. Moving forward to help nurseries, there needs to be a big increase in the hourly rate, this should be paid for 52 weeks and the 3-year funding should begin in the start of the school year in which the child is 3 and not wait until the child is actually 3.”

225 The Petitions Committee can email people who sign petitions if they have given permission to receive emails related to the petition. The survey was sent to everyone who had signed the petition: Extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of COVID-19

Published: 6 July 2020