This report, commissioned by the Social Mobility Commission, finds that low pay, a high workload and a lack of career development for early years workers risk having a serious impact on the provision of care and education services for the under-fives.

The research reveals that as many as 1 in 8 of the early years workforce is paid under £5.00 an hour, while the average wage is only £7.42 an hour – less than the minimum wage and much lower than for the average female workforce (£11.37). Staff turnover in the early years is high, at 15%, mainly due to low pay, a lack of training and career structure and excessive overtime.

Early years professionals work longer hours than people in comparable occupations: 11% of full-time early years workers reported working more than 42 hours per week, compared to 3% of retail workers and 6% of female workers in general. There are few training opportunities once people enter the workforce. Only 17 % of early years workers receive job-related training. While a high proportion of workers are passionate about what they do, 37% leave their employer within 2 years.

There are signs that the early years workforce is becoming increasingly unstable with too few new entrants replacing those leaving the sector.

High turnover can affect both the quality of service and children’s outcomes, and a stable workforce is even more important in disadvantaged communities. By the time children are aged 5, those from disadvantaged families are already significantly behind their wealthier peers in a variety of development measures.

The pandemic has caused considerable disruption to early years providers since lockdown started in mid-March, generating financial instability for many workers. As parents start returning to the workplace, the early years workforce will become even more vital for child development and cannot be overlooked. There is now a real risk that persistent disruption and lack of support for workers could affect the quality of early years provision.

You can read the full report here.


Key findings


  • In England, the average wage across the early years workforce is £7.42 an hour. This compares to £11.37 for the female workforce and £12.57 for the total population.
  • 13% of the workforce earn less than £5.00 an hour.
  • Many early years workers take on second jobs to make ends meet.
  • 11% of full time early years staff work more than 42 hours per week, compared with 3% of retail workers and 6% of the female workforce.
  • One in 6 workers (15%) leave their jobs within a year.
  • The workforce is mainly young and female: 40% are below 30 and 96% are female.
  • Workers at private day care nurseries said their duties involved heavy cleaning including washing windows and mopping floors.
  • Stability varies across regions: 31% of early years workers in the North of England stay with their current employer for less than 2 years, compared to 37% in the Midlands and 40% in the south of England.
  • Employers say they lack the funds to provide training for their workforce. A 2019 survey found only 8% of early years providers planned to spend more money on training and 55% planned to spend less.

This report was funded by the Social Mobility Commission.

The Social Mobility Commission exists to create a United Kingdom where the circumstances of birth do not determine outcomes in life. The SMC is an independent statutory body (an organisation created by an Act of Parliament). In line with the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, it is a continuation of the body previously called the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.