Current eligibility criteria excludes all private sector workers except those delivering health and social care services
Denial of childcare is disproportionately impacting female workers and leaving working families at risk of abject poverty
George Brash, Unite Regional Officer called on the Northern Ireland Executive to extend the provisions of its Key Worker Childcare scheme to include workers in all essential workplaces.
“The £12 million Key Worker Childcare Scheme introduced by the Department of Health provides support for workers to access pre-school childcare but eligibility is limited to those on the original lists of essential/key workers published by the UK government. In Northern Ireland that is highly prescribed and restricted to those employed in health & social care or other public sector work only.
“Workers employed in retail, construction, transport distribution logistics, warehousing and the agri-food sectors are equally key workers and ensuring the economy continues to function. They, and their families, have the right to avail of childcare at this time.
“Private sector workers also need childcare in order to be able to attend work. For many the option of furlough is still being denied them on the basis of their key worker status despite the updated guidance issued by government [April 4th] which expanded eligibility to include ‘those that need to look after children due to the disruption of child care arrangements’.
“In a situation where grandparents may not be able to provide care for children due to concerns about Covid-19 transmission, many of those currently excluded from accessing childcare have been left with few options aside from taking unpaid dependency leave, potentially leaving them and their families at risk of abject poverty.
“The denial of childcare is a serious and on-going issue particularly impacting female members, with clear equality implications. Unite has written to Health Minister Robin Swann to demand he extend the current restrictive definition of key workers so that all our members can avail of the scheme and access childcare. We need to see action quickly from the Minister and the Northern Ireland Executive on this issue”, Mr Brash concluded.