Childcare battle in Hackney

Submitted by Matthew on 29 April, 2010 - 12:49

An activist from Friends of Hackney Nurseries spoke to Solidarity

Hackney is relatively well-endowed with nursery places. A lot of that is to do with struggles that were fought and won in the 1970s and 80s by feminists and community activists, who set up community nurseries and got funding for them.

Since then it’s been a constant struggle to defend those gains.

Our campaign, Friends of Hackney Nurseries, has reactivated recently in response to big cuts planned by the Learning Trust (LT). The LT is the body that looks after education for Hackney Council, which is convenient for them, as it allows the council to deny responsibility for cuts like these. The LT has said it will cut between £40,000 and £50,000 from the budget of many nurseries, with immediate effect. For many nurseries that represents losing over 50% of their grant.

There are three types of nurseries in Hackney: community (of which there are about 23); council-run (about 10); and private (maybe another 10). It looks like it’s the community nurseries that are being targeted. Until around 10 years ago there were no private nurseries in the borough at all, but over the past few years the council has been forcing even the community nurseries to function more and more like businesses.

The LT has tried to use the election as a veil to push through its cuts; it thinks no one will notice. It’s tried to pick nurseries off one by one, sending them individual letters without talking to anyone, or informing them verbally without writing a letter. A lot of nurseries didn’t know the cuts were taking place, and certainly not on this scale. The LT were hoping that by employing these stealth tactics no one would make a fuss, but we’ve been able to expose the scale of the cuts.

All of this is particularly upsetting in the context of government rhetoric about support for early-years childcare, and it’s made all the more galling because the LT has told the press that “there is definitely no programme of cuts”.

Our campaign aims to mobilise parents, nursery workers and community activists. I think there’s a direct link between the reactivation of our campaign and the rise in feminist activism. There are a lot of feminists based in Hackney, and local networks like Hackney Solidarity Network have been important too. Everyone in Hackney has always valued our nurseries; our communities are very diverse, but we all have children, so this is an issue that unites us.

We’re holding a hustings meeting to put some of the election candidates on the spot on this issue. How we pose our demands will depend on how the struggle develops. Some people involved in the campaign want to explore ideas around radical childcare. One of the people at our recent meeting has a child on the waiting list for four nurseries, and that shows that we need to expand as well as defend services.

Contact the campaign at fhn@live.co.uk.