Thousands sign petition against staff cuts at nurseries as part of plans to loosen ratios

Thousands of parents and childcare workers have signed a petition against plans to cut staff in childcare settings. We reported last week on how the Prime Minister plans to ease childcare ratios in a bid to cut costs for parents.

Relaxing health and safety rules would allow nurseries in England to accommodate more toddlers without employing additional staff. Joanne and Dan Thompson, from Cheadle Hulme, Stockport, are among those fighting the move.

Their baby girl Millie was just nine months old when she died after choking on food at nursery in 2012. What Now a petition put together by the grieving mother of another child, Oliver Steeper, has been signed by more than 45,000 people.

Millie Thompson’s mum, who died after choking at nursery, has launched plans to cut staffing ratios in childcare

Oliver, also nine months old, is believed to have suffocated at his nursery in Ashford, Kent, in September.

The petition, started by her mother Zoe, says: “The government should not reduce existing adult-to-child childcare ratios as has been suggested. Surely there are better ways to reduce the cost of living – put potentially endangering children placed in trust is not the way it should be done.

“Increasing the number of children for whom an adult can be held legally responsible risks increasing the danger to which these young children, the most vulnerable in society, are exposed.”

Current legal requirements state that there must be at least one member of staff for every three children aged two and under. For children two years and older, there must be one member of staff for every four children.

This is not the first time that the government has considered easing ratios as a cost-cutting measure. The Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition government tried to loosen the child-to-staff ratio in England as part of a package of reforms in 2013.

But the plans, led by then Education Minister Liz Truss, were scrapped after opposition from Nick Clegg, who was then Deputy Prime Minister.

Last week Joanne, who has two more children with husband Dan – sons Leo, seven, and Asher, four – said she was “furious” with the government’s proposal.

In a Facebook postwhich has now been shared over 4.5,000 times, she said: “Dear Mr Boris Johnson, No, just no. We are absolutely disgusted by your comments today about wanting to relax the rules of health and safety in child care centers to help reduce financial costs – This is not the answer.

“Your government supported Millie’s Mark and helped create it – a mechanism to help keep children safe in nurseries and now you are making offhand comments like this. The childcare industry needs support, he needs help. Reducing health and safety measures in child care centers is not the answer.”

Joanne's Millie's Trust Facebook post
Joanne’s Millie’s Trust Facebook post

The government says ministers are looking at ‘all options’ to help parents with the availability, choice and cost of childcare and that health and safety, as well as the quality of provision,’ will continue to be of paramount importance”. Any significant regulatory change would require consultation.

A government spokesperson said: ‘The Education Secretary has been clear that supporting families with access to childcare and early education is a priority for him. We are working with colleagues across government to find ways to improve the cost, choice and availability of child care spaces.

“We have invested over £3.5billion in each of the past three years to deliver our free childcare offerings, including 30 hours a week for working parents, which supports thousands of families.”

If Zoe is petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in Parliament.

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