Minister: 'Childcare plan must help low earners first'
Minister Katherine Zappone has insisted that Budget childcare measures must benefit low-income families first.
She said there are other measures to support higher-earning families amid ongoing negotiations over the threshold for parents to benefit from the proposed childcare subsidy.
And she seized on the publication of a report into early years services in disadvantaged areas to reinforce her position.
Fine Gael TDs want to increase the threshold at which families become eligible to claim the subsidy that will be paid to creches to bring in middle-income workers.
However, Ms Zappone is insistent that if funding for the scheme is limited, the low paid should be the first recipients.
She spoke at the launch of the 'Breaking Point' report, which examined services to support families most at risk of poverty in parts of south Dublin and Cork city.
Ms Zappone said that a finding that 98pc of community providers of such services are experiencing financial risk is "alarming". The report also cites average hourly pay in the sector of €11.12 and highlights a difficulty in retaining highly qualified staff.
Ms Zappone said: "These figures are why we have to change childcare forever. As minister with responsibility, I am determined to bring about that change." She said services for children need an investment of €600m but this won't happen in a single Budget.
An income threshold for a couple earning €47,000 to avail of the planned childcare subsidy is one model being looked at for the new subsidy scheme, but Fine Gael TDs would like to see that increased to around €55,000.
Ms Zappone said the threshold will be a net income figure and the proposed scheme will be streamlined to help families find out if they're covered.
"I am absolutely in favour of ensuring a higher form of subsidisation for low-income families but I'm also saying at the same time there is State support for children of families of any income," she said.
She said there are other "significant forms of investment" benefiting families of all incomes. These include the introduction of paternity leave and the second year of free pre-school care.
Ms Zappone said that once the subsidy system is in place, it can be extended to higher-income families as more funding becomes available.
She will have further talks with Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe to discuss the issue this week.
Ms Zappone said she is seeking to maximise the funds for the scheme so that more families will be covered.