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‘So much fear’ Crippling reason Boris can’t close schools despite Omicron surge

Mum of two says possible school closures ‘heartbreaking’

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Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has not yet ruled out closing schools, but said “I will do everything in my power” to keep them open – despite surging Omicron cases. Unlike previous lockdowns and school closures, the UK does not have a furlough scheme in place.

This means parents would be unable to take time off work to home school their children without seeing a serious hit to household income.

If Mr Johnson wished to proceed with school closures without reinstating furlough, he may be forced to significantly expand the definition of “key worker”, according to Christine Farquharson, a senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Key workers were previously allowed to send their children to school, even when they were closed to the general public.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Ms Farquharson said: “There have always been exemptions for essential workers, for their children to go into childcare, so I think you would have to make that a really very broad category and make it so it includes everybody who isn’t able to look after their children and work.

“But then you end up in a situation where an awful lot of people are saying, ‘well that’s me’.”

Rachel Carrell is CEO and founder of Koru Kids, a UK based childcare agency. She said many parents found trying to juggle work and “completely impossible” during previous school closures.

Ms Carrell told Express.co.uk: “There’s a huge amount of fear and uncertainty around at the moment.

“In the first lockdown in March, a lot of parents tried to work and look after their children at the same time.

“But many parents found that was completely impossible and their employers started to realise that as well.

“So parents were really at the absolute end of their tether.

“It was just so hard for parents to support homeschooling.

“We saw a lot of cases where one of the parents took furlough and devoted themselves to supporting homeschooling, which was still hard.

“We know that disproportionately far more women did that than men, which is a familiar story – women taking a step back in their careers and being the ones who sacrifice.

“But by the end of the first lockdown, parents were just completely at the end of their tether – and some just completely gave up.

“In the second and third lockdowns, we had a huge uptick in demand for our nannies.”

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She called on the Government to improve access to childcare subsidies, acknowledging many households are unable to afford childcare support.

She said: “Not every family can afford the wonder that is a nanny in the house, so there’s a lot more that Government could do to ease up subsidies for nannies.

“There are a lot of families that are entitled to childcare subsidies but can’t access them.

“It’s not even about subsidies, just to make the current ones easier to access so they can be used for Covid-safe childcare.”

Speaking about past lockdowns and school closures, Ms Farquharson said: “Previously we had the furlough scheme, which covered women or men who had to take time away from work to care for dependants.”

But without the furlough scheme, she said the UK would be faced with “a lot of people who are trying to do two jobs at the same time.”

She added: “They are trying to look after children who are doing their home learning, at the same time as they’re doing their actual work.

“You can just about imagine that for a person with a white-collar job and a flexible, understanding boss, who is able to work from home and can just burn the midnight oil to try and get their work done.

“Where that becomes much more difficult to imagine is people who are having to go out to work or people who have much tighter timelines or people who don’t have that flexibility or that quite lucky situation.

“So I think those people would be facing a really horrible choice.

“It’s difficult to think what you’d actually have to do in that situation, whether you’d have to take some form of unpaid leave – if your employer is even willing to offer you that – and if you can even afford to do that.

“You may have to rely on friends or family to look after your kids, if you have them available, and if they’re not super vulnerable.”

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