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If childcare providers go under, what hope is there for working mothers? | Barbara Ellen


If you take away a woman’s childcare, then you take away her life. A survey of 2,000 childcare providers conducted by the Early Years Alliance (EYA) reports that a quarter of childminders and nurseries in deprived areas of England won’t be able to stay open beyond Christmas without extra funding.

In total, one in six childcare providers is in danger of closing, because of falling demand and insufficient government aid. While the Department for Education says that it has provided support by “bulk-buying” places and the sector will further benefit from funding plans, the EYA says that money often isn’t reaching those who need it. It estimates that a £240m emergency fund is required for providers to avoid closure.

The collapse of the childcare sector would be a disaster, specifically for working mothers, yet another way for them to be devastated by the pandemic.

Just as childminders/nurseries mostly comprise female workers, closures would mainly affect mothers. Fathers would also be affected, but still, even today, childcare problems tend to hit women first and hardest. During the pandemic, this has meant mothers struggling to work from home, as childcare falls away and school clubs shut.

Who, in recent months, hasn’t ended up on the phone to a stressed, apologetic woman trying to do her normal job from home and look after kids at the same time? After the lockdown is over (whenever that will be), women could be ordered back to work, only to find that their usual childcare provider has gone under. If mothers are forced to give up work because of a childcare shortage, who do you think will be blamed?

In some ways, this is merely an exaggeration of how childcare (finding it, trusting it, affording it, losing it) tends to dominate women’s lives.

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Most women couldn’t afford to be stay-at-home mums, even if they wanted to. Not everyone has home-friendly jobs or enough money/space for full-time live-in help. For many parents, it’s about cobbling together a complicated patchwork of drop-offs, pick-ups, favours, arriving late, leaving early and turning down promotions and opportunities because you know it just wouldn’t work.

Part of the current crisis is that, with social distancing, women no longer have the option of turning to grandparents, other mums or friends for help. It’s all on them to ensure they can scrape together enough autonomy just to continue working.

This is why the crisis in the early years sector deserves urgent attention. It won’t just affect early years sector jobs, it will affect predominantly female employment generally. Women in all socioeconomic brackets, but especially those on low incomes, know how quickly things unravel without stable childcare – how your chance of a working life can be obliterated with terrifying speed.

Trusted, affordable childcare plays a pivotal role in women’s lives. It’s often the sole reason they manage to keep all the different plates spinning. If this sector is wrecked by the pandemic, families and futures will be destroyed along with it.

Farewell, Nobby Stiles, the toothless tiger who entered football folklore

Nobby Stiles
Nobby Stiles, right, with Alf Ramsey, and England captain Bobby Moore with the World Cup trophy. Photograph: AP

How sad to hear that Nobby Stiles, one of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team, has died at the age of 78, after years suffering from prostate cancer and dementia.

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Even people with scant interest in football have heard of the Manchester United midfielder, Nobby Stiles, and not just because of the famous images of him brandishing his false teeth on the Wembley pitch after winning the World Cup. Stiles was an old-school, no-nonsense, working-class football hero, who looked about 50 when he was in his early 20s. Forget the big bucks, carefully balanced diets and deep-tissue massages of the modern premiershipgame. Forget even the pouts and poodle perms of the 1970s. Stiles was of an era when footballers gave the impression they’d arrived on the bus 10 minutes prior tobefore the game, smoking fags, eating chips and sinking a quick pint before taking to the pitch. That’s just my imagination running riot, but I’m not imagining Stiles’s achievements: on top of the World Cup, they include 28 England caps and winning the 1968 European Cup with Manchester United.

It wouldn’t do to romanticise a past sporting era where footballers, far from being spoilt, were too often poorly remunerated by all-powerful clubs. It’s horrible to learn that Stiles was forced to sell his cherished football trophies in 2010. It’s even worse that his family suspect his dementia was caused by heading heavy, old-style leather footballs and that they didn’t feel he was supported enough in his decline by professional football.

Still, Stiles remains a bona fide football immortal. For all the crazy money sloshing around the game these days, he got to do something no modern English player has achieved: hold up the World Cup. Just as the death of a music legend can give you a shock that feels simultaneously cultural and deeply personal, the same is true of the passing of key sportsmen. RIP, Nobby Stiles, that spirit and those teeth will not be forgotten.

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Unvarnished truths as ever from Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin: ‘ultimately, she is the show’. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

You can always rely on artist Tracey Emin to slap you in the face with the cold, hard truth. Emin, 57, has been treated for squamous cell bladder cancer, which killed her mother in 2016. The treatment involved removing her bladder, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, lymph nodes, and part of her colon, urethra, and vagina, the latter for now stitched closed. All this has been described by Emin with unflinching bluntness, so no change there.

Emin’s artistic message has always been: this is me, a woman, a human, a triumph, a mess, everything at once, look away if you can’t take it. Now, just as she’s confronted us with her sexuality and humanity, she does the same with her brush with mortality. How courageous, but also how demystifying and useful.

Over the years, Emin has frequently been dismissed as a narcissist but narcissists just talk about themselves; Emin, in art and life, talks about all of us. Her latest Royal Academy exhibition, pairing her work with Edvard Munch, sounds intriguing, but, I hope it’s not demeaning to Emin to point out that, ultimately, she is the show. Hope you feel better, Tracey, our monochrome world needs you.

• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist



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