IGN learnings

Making childcare work: learning from Liverpool City Region

R39 Ellis

Ellis Farrar

Researcher at Metro Dynamics

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High quality, accessible childcare is key to inclusive growth, with the potential to advance gender equality within the workforce and drive output and productivity gains in the short, medium and long term.

Affordable and accessible childcare can support parents to participate in the labour market, particularly women who disproportionately shoulder the burden of unpaid care work – 1.5 million mothers would take on more working hours if childcare access was improved. Our research at the Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) highlights the £27bn annual loss to the economy through reduced labour supply due to inaccessible, unaffordable childcare.

Childcare also has the potential to provide a fulfilling and rewarding career as a significant employer in the foundational economy. In the longer term, high quality early years education for children from all backgrounds is vital to setting the foundations for improving educational, and therefore life, outcomes for all.

Making the economic case for childcare

CPP has championed the economic case for improving childcare availability through research reports, practical engagement with local and combined authorities via the Inclusive Growth Network, and political advocacy at a national level. We were part of the coalition that influenced the injection of a £4bn package into the childcare sector by Jeremy Hunt in 2023 – yet, with insufficient funding and inaccurate targeting of the reforms, significant issues persist in the childcare sector, holding parents and children back.

An incoming government needs to position childcare as a major economic growth priority, with the potential to drive productivity growth by supporting parents across the country facing increases in the cost of living, getting more people into work, improving good employment in the sector, and raising early years outcomes. The IGN has been working with Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, who are taking a holistic approach to recruitment, retention and workforce development in the region.

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Our childcare webinar

On the 8th May 2024, CPP held a webinar to explore what needs to happen to ensure forthcoming reforms are implemented in a way that benefits families, and what other combined authorities can learn from Liverpool City Region’s creative approach to using its formal levers and informal convenorship role.

The discussion was chaired by Annabel Smith (Director of Place and Practice, CPP) and speakers included Ben Franklin (Interim CEO, CPP), Lucie Stephens (Head of Research, Early Education and Childcare Coalition), Emma Dickinson (Principal Policy Officer, Liverpool City Region) and Tim Moore (Principal Policy Officer, Liverpool City Region).

Key learnings:

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is using their formal levers to support the early years sector: Combined authorities do not have statutory responsibilities for early years nor formal powers over childcare, but Liverpool City Region have used their skills and employability powers and funding to develop the local early years education workforce. This includes:

  • Sector support – working through their six local authorities’ Early Years leads to design and deliver a package of approaches to support the early years sector.
  • Adult Education Budget – commissioning a Test and Learn Pilot to support the early years workforce to take a Level 3 ‘room leader’ qualification. This has been successful and is looking to be expanded.
  • Stronger Practice Hub – delivering skills development courses for the early years workforce at flexible times that suits their needs.
  • Apprenticeship Levy Transfer – transferring unspent levy from large businesses to smaller childcare providers to secure new early years apprentices.

Liverpool City Region is playing a key convenorship role, brokering partnerships across the early years sector and with local and national stakeholders: The early years sector can be a complex terrain, with a breadth of organisations, including national and local providers. The Combined Authority has brought to bear a collaborative approach across partners in the sector, creating a movement in the city region. This brokering has centred around advocacy for local recruitment in the sector, using local sources of influence, such as childcare champions and local football clubs’ community outreach to improve male participation. This also includes working with national government, including the Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Work with DWP has equipped work coaches with the information they need to support job seekers to join the sector and gain relevant qualifications.

Improvements in data will support more effective provision by better understanding the supply of and demand for local childcare: Local government policymakers need accurate data to monitor all areas of the sector, including recruitment and retention of staff, employee pay, and the number of hours required across different age groups. Understanding the needs of the workforce and parents in the system will enable targeted interventions in specific areas. Liverpool City Region have been proactive in obtaining information where there are current data limitations and gaps. For example, they have issued a talent template through Jobcentre Plus, which has helped to identify thousands of residents interested in joining the sector.

What next?

The childcare and early years sector needs a more coherent and multifaceted approach to reform. There are several core stakeholders, including children and parents, the early years workforce, childcare providers and other local businesses. The complex set of solutions to meet the interests of these groups requires a holistic, multifaceted approach to increasing access to childcare, facilitated by partnership working and mature relationships between local and national organisations. Government needs a coherent strategy that recognises the cross-cutting nature of childcare. This should seek to establish both urgent interventions to stabilise the sector and long-term reform to improve outcomes and achieve the economic potential of more effective childcare. It also needs to work in partnership with local and combined authorities to learn from innovative approaches such as that of Liverpool City Region.