Budget to give free pre-school for every child over three years
Government to announce a 'family friendly' giveaway in Dail this week
The Government will this week announce free pre-school education for every child over the age of three until they begin primary school, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
The major announcement will be made in the Coalition's "family friendly" Budget and is the central plank of the Coalition's much-anticipated package of childcare reforms aimed at reducing costs for hard-working families.
Children's Minister James Reilly has been given €85m to invest in the extra free education and a range of other childcare initiatives.
This will include additional resources for the community childcare subvention, which provides childcare at reduced rates for disadvantaged families, and investment in after-school care for young children.
The Sunday Independent can also confirm that Tanaiste Joan Burton's Department of Social Protection has secured funding to introduce two weeks of paid paternal leave for fathers, which will come into effect next summer.
The measures will be announced by Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin when they unveil their €1.5bn Budget in the Dail on Tuesday afternoon.
"It's all about benefits for families - that's what the theme of the Budget will be," a senior government source said.
The Coalition is banking its election hopes on resolving the childcare crisis, which has seen families forced to hand over almost €20,000 in creche fees.
Currently, the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme provides for a free year of early childhood care for children aged over three years, two months and less than four years, seven months.
Under the Government's new plan, this scheme, which involves the State contributing towards playschool and daycare service costs, will be available to all children from the age of three until they begin primary school.
The other significant element of the plan is the decision to introduce two weeks of paid leave to fathers after child birth. However, government sources stressed that this is just the "first step" in a plan to introduce a year of paid parental leave which can be split between both fathers and mothers.
As previously promised, child benefit will also be increased by €5 in the Budget.
The childcare packages are also aimed at encouraging stay-at-home mothers to return to work to help address the shortfall in skilled workers in some areas.
It is hoped the increase in the minimum wage will be seen as a benefit to all, but specifically to women working the hospitality sector.
"We want to make work pay and make it more attractive than social welfare. There will be a range of incentives targeted at women. We want to increase the female capacity in the workforce," the source said.
Mr Noonan's "big-ticket" announcement will be a major reduction in the widely hated universal social charge (USC), which could be slashed by as much as 2pc, according to reports. The USC cuts will be aimed at middle-income families, and will also see thousands of workers removed from the lower rate.