Leaders across the North East have written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock calling on him to amend new local COVID-19 restriction measures to allow families to continue their usual childcare arrangements.
Seven local authorities came together to request stricter measures across the region in response to rapidly rising infection rates.
In their request to the Department of Health Social Care, the leaders of Northumberland, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham requested that people be able to enter other households for the purposes of childcare while the main carer was at work.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock approved a host of new regulations but rejected this request from the North East local authority leaders.
Cllr Simon Henig, Leader of Durham County Council, said: “We know many of our residents rely on members of their families as well as friends for childcare to enable them to work. We have asked the Government to include this exemption in what we hope will be temporary local restrictions so as not to hinder those families who continue to work hard in incredibly challenge circumstances.
“Sadly, this request was rejected by the Department of Health and Social Care, and we need them to reverse this decision as a matter of urgency.
“It is incredibly disappointing that this ask has not been fulfilled as many parents will now face the difficult decision of whether they should work or look after their children. Not all families can afford to pay for childcare, many extended families rely on the goodwill of their relatives and we now ask that the Government urgently reconsiders this decision and recognises the reality facing many families right across the North East.”
Jonathan Walker, Policy Director, North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “Childcare provided by close family and friends is an unseen pillar upon which our economy rests. It enables parents to return to work, provides flexibility for those who work long or irregular hours and is an invaluable resource for sole traders and new entrepreneurs. The Government’s announcement has already created a huge amount of uncertainty for employees and employers alike.
“Furthermore, the exclusion of informal childcare is a deeply regressive step. It will negatively affect parents and carers, especially those on lower incomes more profoundly at a time when we should be building an economic recovery that is fair for all. Government must immediately amend these restrictions.”
The new restrictions introduced to tackle rising infection rates came into effect on Friday, September 18. They include a ban on social mixing with other households and new regulations for the hospitality trade among a number of changes.