The UK government is planning to offer a £1,000 cash incentive and launch a campaign to elevate the status of childcare workers in an effort to recruit more staff. The initiative comes as thousands of additional nursery workers and childminders are required due to the expansion of funded hours. Over 100,000 working parents of two-year-olds have already registered for the scheme set to begin in April, as per the Department for Education (DfE).
However, early-years charities argue that the campaign is belated and won’t be sufficient to meet the increasing demand. By September 2025, all eligible pre-school children of working parents, aged nine months and above, will be entitled to 30 hours of childcare during term time.
The recruitment drive comes at a time when the number of childcare providers is dwindling, primarily due to childminders exiting the profession. To meet the anticipated surge in demand for places, about 27,500 early-years professionals will be needed, marking an 8% expansion of the current workforce, according to think tank Nesta.
The campaign will underscore the crucial role of early-years professionals and offer a £1,000 tax-free cash incentive for up to 3,000 new hires or staff returning to early years after three months in the job. However, industry experts warn that the campaign alone won’t be enough to increase educator numbers in time to meet rising demand and does little to retain both new and existing staff in the long-term.
Low pay and limited career progression are among the main reasons staff leave the profession. Despite a 4% increase in early-years workers between 2022 and 2023, the number of people working in voluntary group providers and childminders continues to decline.
Apprenticeships are seen as a key solution to filling the workforce gap. For instance, Busy Bees, the largest nursery group in the UK, is planning to recruit hundreds more apprentices this year.
However, some parents of two-year-olds eligible for the funded hours in April are still struggling to secure a nursery place. Furthermore, some nurseries and childminders are uncertain about how much local-authority funding they will receive for April’s rollout, making it difficult to plan ahead. The DfE expects all nurseries and childminders to know their funding rate by the end of February.