Marie Marin, founder and Chief Executive, Employers For Childcare, the UK’s only Social Enterprise Childcare Voucher company tells us how her organisation has been responding to COVID-19 and sets out how ‘buying social’ with Employers For Childcare can create social value.

Little did I know when I was picking up my Award for Woman of the Year in Social Enterprise in the beautiful surroundings of the Guildhall at December’s Social Enterprise UK Awards, what a frightening, crazy, challenging and disruptive year that was to come. Social enterprises have been hit hard during COVID-19, with many ‘falling through the cracks’ of Government support – here in Northern Ireland, where we are based, our local Ministers have just announced a programme of support for the sector, after months of intensive lobbying from Social Enterprise NI, of which I am a proud Board member. Yet the ongoing pandemic has seen many, many social enterprises come to the fore in terms of continuing, and stepping up, the services they provide, at a time when they are needed more than ever.

So how has COVID19 impacted on Employers For Childcare?

Employers For Childcare is the UK’s only Social Enterprise Childcare Voucher provider – 100% of the profits we make from administering the scheme, on behalf of employers, are invested in the work of our charity, whose mission is to support parents with dependent children to get into, and stay in, work. During COVID19 our charity has never been busier. Our team of trained Family Benefits Advisors have been responding to calls and emails from parents all across the UK who have faced even greater challenges that normal in finding and paying for childcare. This has included helping key workers to find childcare (at short notice, and in exceptionally difficult circumstances) when schools and many childcare providers were forced to close abruptly. Through our policy work, we have been advising Government on its response to the childcare crisis presented by COVID19 and we can safely say that childcare has never been higher on the public policy agenda than it is at present.

All of this work has only been made possible by those companies who have chosen to ‘buy social’ and offer our Childcare Vouchers to their employees, as a way of supporting them with their childcare costs. For every employee that uses our Childcare Vouchers, we can help 17 parents identify the financial support available to them – a total of £10.4 million collectively in 2018/19. In terms of direct benefits, through our Childcare Voucher scheme, in the last year, we helped parents to save £11.2 million on childcare costs and employers to save £4.8 million through reduced employer National Insurance Contributions. A positive example of social value in action, through the work of both our Social Enterprise, and our charity.

But aren’t Childcare Vouchers closed?

The Government closed the Childcare Voucher scheme to new entrants in October 2018, which means only those parents who are already using the scheme can now benefit from it, and no new employers can sign up to offer Childcare Vouchers to their employees. However, although the scheme is closed to new entrants, those using it already can continue to do so for as long as they remain eligible, so we expect Childcare Vouchers to be around for many years to come. This also means that for those employers that already offer Childcare Vouchers to their employees, they have the option to switch from their current provider to Employers For Childcare as the UK’s only Social Enterprise Childcare Voucher provider.

By doing so, employers are making a conscious decision to ‘buy social’ and support the work of a leading Social Enterprise and charity, helping parents all across the UK at a time when they need it most – and at the same time adding to the social value they create as an organisation. All of this at zero cost, as the administration fee they pay to us is just a small percentage of the savings generated through reduced employers National Insurance contributions.

But more than this. Employers who make the switch to Employers For Childcare can access a high-quality service (with 100% customer satisfaction rates), a provider that is ISO accredited for quality and information management and which is a founding member of the Childcare Voucher Providers Association (CVPA), showing our commitment to upholding the highest standards across the industry. We are a Social Enterprise, but we are a business first and foremost and we are confident that we offer a service that goes far above that provided by many of our private sector competitors.

What does a switch to Employers For Childcare involve?

We are all familiar with the process for switching banks, and just like the banks take care of everything, so do we. From the moment an employer speaks to us they will have a named client account manager to guide them through the simple switching process within a timeline that works for their organisation. In addition, we will provide any support their HR/payroll team may need to help administer the scheme via our simple, secure, online eVouchers portal. It’s that simple.

Here’s what one client, global energy company BHGE, who joined us recently told us:

“The transition was seamless, and Employers For Childcare supported us through each step….The team have been great to work with, and in working with a social enterprise, we are helping to contribute to positive change in the lives of families across the UK”.

Next steps

So if reading this has inspired any business leaders to look for ways to increase their own social value by including more Social Enterprises in their supply chain, we’d love to talk to them about switching their Childcare Voucher scheme to Employers For Childcare. Drop us an email to hello@employersforchildcare.org and we’d be happy to set up a meeting (virtually, of course!)